SEATTLE — Eleven congressmen sent letters urging a nonpartisan government watchdog to audit the U.S. Border Patrol’s activities on the northern border, immigrant advocates said Tuesday.
The Democratic lawmakers want the U.S. Government Accountability Office to investigate if Border Patrol agents are violating civil rights, undermining immigrant communities and adversely affecting public safety.
“Reports suggests that Border Patrol agents may be targeting individuals on the basis of race or religion for extra scrutiny during border crossings and wrongfully stopping, interrogating, and arresting legal U.S. residents who are many miles from the border,” the letter, sent July 31, states. “Border Patrol agents are also conducting operations outside places frequented by immigrant children and their families, including schools, churches and human services agencies.”
The letter is the latest episode in a protracted tussle between immigrant rights groups and the agency, which has expanded the number of agents along the northern border from 1,100 agents in 2007 to more than 2,200 now.
Expanded security at the U.S.-Canada border, which is almost twice as long as the U.S.-Mexico border, was implemented after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Customs and Border protection are incapable of policing themselves. For years, we’ve gone through the internal process, filing complaints with Homeland Security … but it never has led to accountability, never lead to reform or justice for our community,” said Ryan Bates of the Northern Border Coalition.
An email seeking comment to the Border Patrol in Washington state was not immediately returned. But in previous instances, the agency has denied targeting people based on race, saying it violates their policies.
A Government Accountability Office team is considering the request and plans to meet with congressional staff on the matter when lawmakers return to Washington next month, said spokesman Chuck Young.
The letter asks the Government Accountability Office to develop comprehensive data on arrests within 100 miles of the northern border to account for race and ethnicity of people apprehended. They want the watchdog to determine if there are “statistically significant racial or ethnic disparities in the rate of apprehension.”
Signing the letter are representatives Charles Rangel, Yvette Clarke and Maurice D. Hinchey of New York; Jim McDermott and Adam Smith of Washington state; Gary Peters and Hansen Clarke of Michigan; Judy Chu and Pete Stark from California and Henry C. “Hank” Johnson of Georgia.
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan sent his own letter, advocates said.
Manuel Valdes can be reached at https://twitter.com/ByManuelValdes .