CWS statement regarding The Arizona Borderlands Protection and Preservation Act (S.750)

May 6, 2015

Humanitarian organization Church World Service (CWS) opposes S.750, The Arizona Borderlands Protection and Preservation Act. This legislation runs contrary to the proud U.S. tradition of welcoming vulnerable populations, ignores international and domestic legal obligations regarding persons fleeing from violence and persecution, and would be harmful to immigrant communities. As Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs consider S.750, CWS encourages them to oppose this legislation, and to instead create policies that treat people and communities with dignity and humanity. One alternative would be the bipartisan Border Enforcement, Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act, introduced as H.R. 4303 in the 113th Congress. H.R. 4303 would respond to the needs of border communities by increasing transparency, opportunities for community input, and training for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, making it far more solutions-oriented and cost effective than S.750.

The Arizona Borderlands Protection and Preservation Act would define a “secure border” as a 100% turn-back/apprehension rate of all individuals trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. This runs counter to the United States’ international obligations and domestic laws, as well as the moral duty to ensure that apprehended individuals are properly screened to determine if they qualify as trafficking victims, asylum seekers or others in need of international protection. In this regard, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) itself has recognized that a 100% rate is unworkable and harmful to DHS’s mission. If enacted, this bill could undermines DHS’s capacity to adapt to emerging threats by politicizing tactical decisions.1

CWS is also concerned that this “secure border” definition could worsen already-rampant abuses by CBP2, undermine accountability and transparency for the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country, and degrade U.S. international protection obligations that prevent both children and adults from being returned back into hands of traffickers, gangs and others who seek to exploit them. Also, rather than preserving the environmentally unique lands surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border, S.750 would allow CBP to utilize these lands for the primary purpose of organizing patrols and other surveillance methods. This would threaten fragile ecosystems, desecrate sacred sites, violate religious freedom, damage public lands, interfere with the lives and livelihoods of border communities, and violate the rights of thousands of individuals who seek the protection of the United States.

For decades, the United States has increased border and interior enforcement efforts. Last year alone, the U.S. government spent more than $18 billion on immigration enforcement, more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.3 However, border militarization and inhumane detention, coupled with congress’s failure to enact real solutions to unite families and modernize our visa system, have only further damaged an already broken system. The U.S. immigration system has been broken for far too long and S.750 would be a step backwards for a system in great need of repair. CWS urges all Members of the Committee to reject this proposal, and to instead consider positive legislative such as the Border Enforcement, Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act. CWS is committed to working with Congress and the Administration to see true reform enacted, rather than S.750 and other harmful proposals.

1Statement by Secretary Jeh C. Johnson Concerning H.R. 399, The Secure Our Border First Act of 2015. Department of Homeland Security. January 22, 2015

2The Green Monster How the Border Patrol became America’s most out-of-control law enforcement agency. Politico Magazine. December 2014.

3Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery. The Migration Policy Institute.