True transparency and accountability require action

Last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security released an updated Use of Force Policy for Customs and Border Protection (CBP). After 28 deaths related to CBP officers’ use of force since 2010, a policy update was long overdue. 

But the plans for an idyllic Friday afternoon news release were thwarted.

Just hours after the announcement, Jose Luis Arambula, a U.S. citizen, was shot and killed while fleeing border patrol agents. While news reports allege that Arambula was transporting 21 bales of marijuana, if he was not attempting to use deadly force against the Border Patrol agents, those who killed him must be held accountable.

Yes, because of the work of the Border Patrol and the 1,600 law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction along the Southwest border, the region is one of the safest in the country.

However, at the border as with our individual privacy, safety and security should not come at the expense of transparency and accountability.

In years past, incidents like this largely have been cloaked in secrecy. Investigations have dragged on for years with no answers. As a result, the relationship between CBP — the largest police force in the world — and the 15 million people who live along the Southwest border has grown increasingly strained.

That is why Friday’s long-awaited releases of CBP’s new Use of Force Policy, Guidelines and Procedures Handbook as well as a report by the nonprofit, third-party Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) are so welcome.

The new Use of Force Policy incorporates many key PERF recommendations. Beyond the requirement that all use of force incidents must be reported for review, the new policies include significant changes to how CBP officers interact with vehicles and rock throwers.

According to the new guidelines, CBP officials should no longer shoot at moving vehicles unless they face an imminent threat of serious injury or death. They are not to shoot at fleeing vehicles, and agents are not to place themselves in the path of moving vehicles.

These changes are important because PERF investigated 15 separate incidents in which agents fired at or into vehicles and found that many times, agents intentionally put themselves into the exit path of the vehicle, thereby exposing themselves to additional risk and creating justification for the use of deadly force.

Likewise, for individuals throwing rocks, the new policy directs officers not to shoot in response unless they are in danger of death or serious injury; when possible, agents should seek to distance themselves from the situation. In this category, PERF investigated 25 incidents that involved agents firing shots in response to rock attacks.

These changes are a significant step in the right direction: toward increased accountability, transparency and oversight at our nation’s borders.

Yet, true victory will come when criminals are brought to justice in the courts, officers have the guidelines and support necessary to do their jobs safely, and all residents of our border regions feel secure.

Noorani is executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

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