WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats on Monday called for an overhaul of secretive teams within the U.S. Border Patrol that have multiple roles, including protecting agents from potential civil liability.
Ten committee and subcommittee chairs in the House and Senate asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the teams, following recent questions from lawmakers to the Border Patrol and its parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, about the units’ mission and the scope of their actions. authority remained largely unanswered.
The House Committees on Homeland Security and Oversight and Reform also announced their own joint investigation into the units, known as critical incident teams, on Monday.
The questions come as new Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus faces a long to-do list, especially when it comes to overseeing the border patrol and its entrenched, insular culture. Mr. Magnus, who took the job after serving as a police chief in Tucson, Ariz, has pledged to bring transparency to the agency.
“We are deeply concerned about the lack of transparency in the role of Border Patrol’s critical incident teams,” wrote representatives Carolyn B. Maloney of New York and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the respective leaders of the Oversight and Reform and Homeland. Security Committees to Mr. Magnus. They asked him to submit documents before February 7.
“Despite the apparent lack of authority to investigate agent misconduct, Border Patrol appears to have created special teams of agents to investigate and collect evidence following incidents that could cause criminal or civil liability, including allegations of excessive use of force” , they wrote.
In the separate request to the Government Accountability Office, an impartial watchdog, lawmakers said they wanted to better understand “the roles and responsibilities” of the critical incident teams “including their authorities, activities, training and oversight”.
DailyExpertNews reported this month on the rise in deaths from high-speed chases by the Border Patrol, highlighting local police reports that had noted the presence of critical incident teams at some of the scenes. Customs and Border Protection has never mentioned the teams in press releases about high-speed chases or incidents involving violence, nor are they mentioned in current policies the agency has made public. In 2013, the teams were named in the agency’s use of force policy, but the reference was removed from later versions after an outside advisory group raised questions about what the teams were doing.
Customs and Border Protection has defended the teams, saying they are collecting evidence and assisting with investigations by the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility into employee misconduct. But critics have described it as a conflict of interest for Border Patrol agents to help their colleagues investigate.
“The trust and support of the public depend on research integrity,” Andrea Guerrero, the leader of a community group in San Diego, said Monday. Last year, the organization called on Congress to investigate the teams.
Ms. Guerrero has been investigating critical incident teams for the past year after seeing mentions of them in documents related to a 2010 case in which the death of a 42-year-old Mexican man was tied up, beaten and shocked with a taser by Border Patrol officers after he was caught illegally entering the country. Lawmakers have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate incidents dating back to 2010.
The 2010 episode attracted international attention and the case is this year being heard by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — an apparent first for a person who died at the hands of U.S. law enforcement.
Mr Thompson said Customs and Border Protection briefed some congressional committees about the teams last year. “But they haven’t fully answered all of our questions,” he said, adding that lawmakers have asked the agency for additional information, but haven’t received anything yet.
Customs and Border Protection and its parent company, the Department of Homeland Security, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
For decades, many political leaders have described the border police as acting with impunity. And while the Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility and a Force Use Control Board are investigating alleged misconduct, the results are rarely made public.
Customs and Border Protection has historically been reluctant to share information with Congress. After the agency provided little information about the outcome of investigations into employee involvement in a private Facebook group that contained racist and abusive posts, the House Oversight and Reform Committee conducted its own investigation. The existence of the Facebook group was publicly disclosed in 2019, and the committee released a report last October showing that there was minimal discipline for those involved.