This past May, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner said that the agency would “soon” release an updated policy pertaining to vehicle pursuits, after advocates demanded action following a massive spike in deaths resulting from Border Patrol’s high-speed chases.
“Between 2019 and 2021, the number of deaths resulting from Border Patrol vehicle pursuits jumped 11-fold, to 23 deaths last year,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in June.
But despite the claim from commissioner Chris Magnus that an updated policy would “soon” arrive, nothing has been made public in the months since. U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar of Texas and Raúl Grijalva of Arizona now lead a letter seeking an update from Magnus.
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“As the country’s largest law enforcement agency, CBP has a responsibility to prioritize public safety,” lawmakers tell Magnus. “Agent-involved vehicle pursuits have killed 44 people in just the last two years, U.S.citizens and migrants alike, some of which were innocent bystanders and drivers. This is untenable.”
The death toll continued into this summer, when a July 27 crash in New Mexico left two dead and ten injured. While El Paso Matters reported that CBP claimed “there was no pursuit involved,” ACLU affiliates said “the local Sunland Park police have stated that the vehicle involved in the crash was fleeing Border Patrol at the time of the crash.”
The New Mexico and Texas chapters of the ACLU have since urged officials to conduct an independent investigation into the crash, and to not deport any of the survivors under the ongoing anti-asylum Title 42 policy. “A 2019 ProPublica study examining more than 500 incidents found that one in three Border Patrol vehicle pursuits ended in a crash,” the organizations said.
“We were pleased to see that CBP is making efforts to update its high-speed vehicle pursuit policies to better align with public safety concerns,” lawmakers said, pointing to Magnus’ May statement. “We urge the agency to be both transparent in these efforts as well as collaborative with any community and/or public safety stakeholders as the agency works to create a new vehicle pursuit policy.”
The letter, available here, asks for a policy implementation date, training plans for agents, and which community stakeholders have been sought “in order to ensure any contemplated changes under the new policy effectively respond to existing concerns.”
“We urge CBP to be proactive in sharing updates, when appropriate, on their progress toward robust, community safety-focused high-speed pursuit policies,” lawmakers conclude.
Getting beneficial policy up is one thing; making sure it’s actually followed is another. Jenn Budd, a former senior Border Patrol agent turned whistleblower, has said agents are encouraged to be reckless.
”Do you know what causes many rollovers of cars Border Patrol pursues on straight paved roads?” she tweeted following the July crash. “Illegal uses of the pit maneuver where agents bump the back corner of a car. Agents are trained in the field to pursue & make them crash and then lie about.”
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