Spotlight on the U.S. - Mexico Border

What do our border policies say about our values as a nation?

President Obama committed to dispatching up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and is asking Congress for $500 million for increased law enforcement in the Southwest and for other border protection tools.

The White House is calling the maneuver "a multi-layered effort to target illicit networks trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons and money.”  But in practice, beefing up border enforcement under existing federal programs has only drained our government resources, has put into serious jeopardy our commitment to due process under the law, and has presented serious human rights implications. 

For example, Operation Streamline, an existing Department of Homeland Security program, was instituted in 2005, and mandates the federal criminal prosecution and imprisonment of all people who cross the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully.

According to a report published by the Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity at U.C. Berkeley Law School, the program fundamentally transformed the prior enforcement practices of DHS Border Patrol agents. 

Formerly, DHS agents would voluntarily return first-time border crossers to their home countries or detain them and formally remove them from the United States through the civil immigration system.  Before the institution of Operation Streamline, the U.S. Attorney’s Office would reserve criminal prosecution for immigrants with criminal records and for those who made repeated attempts to cross the border. 

Operation Streamline removed prosecutorial discretion and requires the criminal prosecution of all people who cross the border without documents, regardless of their specific actions.  In practice, the program mainly targets immigrant workers with no criminal history, and has strained the resources of judges, U.S. attorneys, defense attorneys, U.S. marshals, and court personnel. 

Resulting voluminous prosecutions have forced many courts to cut procedural corners.  Magistrate judges are conducting en masse hearings, during which as many as 80 defendants will plead guilty at a time. 

This is a clear threat to our values of dignity and respect, and an outright violation of our goal of providing due process to all people within our nation’s borders.

In addition to the threats that border enforcement presents to judicial discretion and due process in the United States, we cannot forget the human rights implications of our existing strategies at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Some of the human rights violations currently occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border, and specific to the Texas/Mexico border wall, have been identified by The Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, and include:

1. Violations of the right to property and equal protection guaranteed under international human rights law;

2. Severe degradation of the environment and violations of the government’s human rights obligation to consider harm to the environment when undertaking public projects; and

3. Violations of the rights of indigenous communities protected under international human rights law.

While we’re spending our federal funds on policies that threaten both human rights at the border and judicial and prosecutorial safeguards, is there room for us to reaffirm our commitment to human dignity and due process?

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.

Tags: immigration, community, obama, human rights, security, Opportunity, Racial Justice, Profiling, Values (all tags)

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