Protecting Civil and Human Rights
Policy Letter

POGO and Partners Recommend More Civil Rights Oversight on Border

Coalition encourages DHS’s civil rights office to increase staffing at border to investigate reports of rights violations. 

(Illustration: Renzo Velez / POGO)

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia
Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
2707 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE, Mail Stop #0190
Washington, DC 20528-0190
(via electronic mail)

Dear Officer Wadhia:

We write as Southwest-border-based advocates, immigrants’ rights groups, and law-enforcement-accountability organizations to encourage you to create and staff a permanent Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) presence at the Southwest border. One or more local CRCL border offices with Compliance staff are necessary to better understand, oversee, and improve DHS’s massive border operations. 

We have experienced how much an issue of concern can be advanced by CRCL staff coming to the border for first-hand engagement. Understandably, however, those visits currently require extensive planning and happen much less regularly than is optimal. We believe you and your headquarters would benefit substantively and experience improved efficiency if staff could respond more quickly (and cost-effectively) to border incidents and stakeholder concerns, as well as build additional relationships over time in border communities. 

Establishing one or more Compliance field offices at the border would reduce the expense and logistical challenges of your important onsite work. And vital preventive efforts by CRCL to protect civil rights and civil liberties — measures often facilitated by interacting with DHS personnel in the field — would become more accessible and better routinized.  In addition, deploying permanent staff to the border would assist CRCL in alleviating the enormous burdens placed at times on advocates alone to monitor tense situations involving DHS’s own operations and/or relationships with other law enforcement agencies such as state police or military personnel. 

CRCL’s most recent annual report makes clear how significant a portion of your workload involves Customs and Border Protection’s Southwest border operations.  Indeed, all DHS enforcement components have significant presence at the border, as do your oversight colleagues at the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Offices of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Yet, CRCL is concentrated in Washington, DC.  Establishing regular conduits of information from CRCL staff at the border is a win-win proposition for advancing the office’s mission, deepening and broadening relationships with core border stakeholders, and reducing the burdens of distant CRCL work travel.

We are convinced that CRCL has greater oversight and accountability value to add by basing some of its Compliance staff at the Southwest border. You have a different posture toward, and perception from, the DHS workforce than OIG and the OPRs, with opportunities to further CRCL objectives without regularly implicating adversarial discipline protocols. Being based in part at the border would expand CRCL’s ability to leverage its impact on the ways border enforcement is conducted on a daily basis.

We appreciate your consideration of our suggestion and would be pleased to discuss it further. Please contact Zoe Martens, Advocacy Coordinator, Kino Border Initiative, at [email protected], and Katherine Hawkins, Senior Legal Analyst, Project On Government Oversight, at [email protected].

Yours sincerely,

Americans for Immigrant Justice
Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project
Government Accountability Project
Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative
Immigrant Defenders Law Center
Immigration Hub
Kino Border Initiative
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
Lawyers for Good Government
National Immigration Project (NIPNLG)
Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
Refugees International
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network
Southern Border Communities Coalition
Washington Office on Latin America
Women’s Refugee Commission

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