CWS Statement on Pearce-O’Rourke Bill

April 9, 2014

Church World Service (CWS) welcomes Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM) and Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s (D-TX) recent introduction of the bipartisan Border Enforcement, Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act, H.R. 4303. This legislation responds to the needs of border communities by increasing transparency, opportunities for community input, and training for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials. H.R. 4303 is an important step in remedying the devastating effects that our broken immigration system has had on border communities and human rights.

The Border Enforcement, Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act would modernize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)  by providing professional standards for ports of entry and more training on civil and human rights, appropriate use of force, and de-escalation tactics to protect agents, bystanders and border community members. It would empower border stakeholders to provide recommendations and help officials understand and mitigate deaths along the border.

Faith communities have been outspoken in our dismay of the systematic violations of rights and human dignity that occur as a direct result of Congress and the Administration attempting an “enforcement first” approach rather than actually reforming our broken immigration system. It is our hope that H.R. 4303 will help shift Congress’s focus away from throwing money at the border to ways that enforcement operations can be effective while simultaneously respecting border communities and protecting human and civil rights.

Through the creation of an oversight committee and an office of Ombudsman to monitor an official complaint process, H.R. 4303 would directly address the impunity and secrecy with which CBP has been operating. In combination with the lack of accountability, the unnecessary deaths and stories of excessive force have cultivated mistrust among community members, making it increasingly difficult for CBP agents to do their jobs. Trainings on the appropriate use of force and how to identify vulnerable populations will improve the protection of all individuals along our border while also enhancing the effectiveness of CBP.

This legislation promotes good government  by ensuring that the largest law enforcement system in the country is accountable to the communities directly impacted by its operations. Community policing standards that build trust between police and community members can and should also be applied to all law enforcement.  As CBP officers are often the first American officials that migrants encounter, it is critical that officers have the training and are equipped to identify vulnerable populations who might be in need of protection, including unaccompanied children and possible victims of human trafficking.

As we continue to urge Congress to enact immigration reform that prioritizes family unity and creates opportunities for our undocumented community members to apply for citizenship, we support this legislation that would remedy some of the egregious rights violations and dangerous practices that are happening along our borders. We call on all members of the House of Representatives to co-sponsor and support this legislation.