For everyone’s safety, border agents must use body-worn cameras
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Claudia Patricia Gómez González’s family describes her as a kind, playful, and loving person. She was a great student, who graduated from her school with accreditation in accounting. Claudia was 20 years old when she made the trek from her village in Guatemala to the United States in search of work in her field and a better life. It was during her journey that Claudia Gómez was shot in the the head, and killed, by a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

The details surrounding Claudia’s death are murky; U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) released two different reports, and the only known video comes from a Rio Bravo resident who encountered the gruesome scene outside of her home.

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The investigation has not yet officially been released, but if history is any indication, we may never truly know what happened. Border agents who commit abuses are rarely -- if ever -- held to account. This has eroded community trust, making everybody less safe, especially residents of the southern border who have been living with these abuses for decades.

Fortunately, there is something Congress can do to fix this. Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris, Booker call for judgement on Jussie Smollett case to be withheld until investigation is completed Harris calls idea of Trump trusting Putin over US intel ‘height of irresponsibility and shameful’ Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report MORE (D-Calif.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Defense: Dems aim to block use of defense funds for wall | Watchdog issues new warning on Syria withdrawal | Trump wants to 'watch Iran' from Iraq Senate Dems introduce bill to block Trump from using military funds to build wall Puerto Rico statehood supporters pin hopes on House action MORE (D-N.M.), and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHillicon Valley: House panel takes on election security | DOJ watchdog eyes employee texts | Senate Dems urge regulators to block T-Mobile, Sprint deal | 'Romance scams' cost victims 3M in 2018 Dems urge regulators to reject T-Mobile, Sprint merger Dems wary of killing off filibuster MORE (D-N.M.) recently introduced a bill to require border agents from CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to wear body worn cameras. Rep. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaHow Pelosi is punishing some critics while rewarding others New Dem caucus chairman: Some wall is good, but not new wall Border lawmakers press Trump to beef up existing security MORE (D-Texas) also introduced a companion bill in the House. If signed into law, it would provide a tangible and necessary step to bring oversight, transparency, and accountability not just to CBP, but also to ICE.

The use of body worn cameras is a best practice among law enforcement agencies across the country, and has been shown to reduce the number of complaints against officers, lower the number of use-of-force incidents, increase transparency, and provide supplemental evidence in criminal cases.

In July 2014, CBP did a feasibility study on the use of body-worn cameras as a direct result of the advocacy of many of the organizations that are part of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, which represents border communities from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas. In August 2015, CBP released the Body Worn Camera Feasibility Study Report, which found that body worn cameras could have similar benefits for CBP as noted by other law enforcement agencies.

Body worn cameras could add much-needed clarity to incidents surrounding deaths at the border, such as in the case of Claudia Gómez, which would help rebuild the trust from border communities necessary to keep everyone safe.

Cameras proved to be important in the case of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16-year-old boy who was shot and killed by Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz. There were multiple witnesses of the incident, as well as footage captured by border patrol surveillance cameras. Although Swartz was acquitted of second-degree murder in April of 2018, a retrial for voluntary and involuntary manslaughter is expected to take place October of this year.  

Without the surveillance footage, the path to justice for the Rodriguez family might have been obscured altogether, just as it has been for so many families before. Between 2010 and May of 2018, at least 70 people have died as the result of an encounter with U.S. border agents. The increased militarization of the border has only heightened the atmosphere of violence and fear that border communities and migrants face. Body worn cameras are necessary for professional policing in the 21st century, and, as the nation’s largest police force, CBP and ICE should be required to utilize them.

This bill introduced by the senators is a move to hold ICE and CBP to policing best practices and is part of a national trend to deploy body-worn cameras, with appropriate privacy policies, to address law enforcement abuses.

We can’t let Trump’s deportation force and border militarization continue to terrorize communities, and risk yet another loss of a human life at the border. Body worn cameras on CBP and ICE agents are an important step in reining in out-of-control border agents, and holding them accountable for their overreach and abuse. That should be in everybody’s best interest.

Vicki B. Gaubeca is the director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition