Earlier this week, a delegation of 40 people representing El Paso, Texas, headed to Washington D.C., to speak with members of Congress about what is happening on the Border.
Led by the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR), the delegation is raising concerns to help put legislation in place that would create an ‘Ombudsman’, an appointed official that investigates individuals’ complaints against mismanagement within the Department of Homeland Security. The ombudsman would assist in resolving complaints against Border enforcement agencies.
BNHR, who has been documenting the friction between Border residents and Border enforcement agencies for years, will be presenting testimonials from families who have been victims of harsh law enforcement at the Border and demand accountability.
“We want Congress to pass legislation to make institutions at the Border accountable, train on human rights, and more than anything to respect the constitution,” Fernando Garcia, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights, told KTSM-9.
U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar (D-TX), who represents El Paso, has long been against the way refugees have been treated on the Border. She sponsored the bill in the House earlier this year. It passed the lower chamber in a 230-194 vote in September, and then Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), sponsored the bill in the Senate.
“New Mexico’s Border communities are proud, vibrant, and fundamental to the fabric of our state,” Udall said in a press conference. “(…) Thousands of New Mexicans interact with Border Patrol and Homeland Security officials each day. They feel the effects of DHS policies first hand. When the Trump administration stokes rumors about mass roundups, they sow fear in our immigrant communities. Forcing kids to stay home from school, forcing people to miss doctor’s appointments.”
The bill seeks to “increase transparency, accountability, and community engagement within the Department of Homeland Security,” among other purposes, by creating a position (the Ombudsman) within the department that can make sure that any injustices or unlawful practices are accounted for.
Part of the Ombudsman’s job would be to, in coordination with the Inspector General of the Department, “establish an independent, neutral, accessible, confidential, and standardized process to assist individuals, including aliens,” and resolving complaints with respect to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The Ombudsman shall keep both the complaints and the people implicated in said complaint confidential, and will have the duty to submit annual reporting to various government committees regarding the nature of the complaints, an overview of the entities involved, the component or subcomponent, subcontractor, or cooperating entity identified.
According to the Human Rights First organization, there have been several law violations in the Border since President Donald Trump signed the “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” executive order in 2017. Some examples include asylum seekers arriving at U.S. ports being denied entry, some of them being criminally prosecuted, and many asylum seekers landing in lengthy detentions due to automatic parole denials, amongst others.