By Hiram Soto
When camouflaged border agents without identification began dragging protesters off the streets of Portland and shoving them into the back of unmarked minivans, many people wondered how it was possible that immigration agents could do this.
But not those of us that live in border cities like San Diego. We have seen this happen too many times in our streets.
When Chad F. Wolf, acting Secretary of Homeland Security, said “I don’t need invitations” to deploy more border agents to shut down anti-racism protesters even after local and state leaders in Portland told them to leave, many were shocked that he could even do that.
But not those of us who live in the southern border. We have been living under the boot of DHS militarization for decades.
For years, we have been raising the alarm about the extraordinary “powers without warrant” that border agents assert in defiance of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution to interrogate people, set up checkpoints, search their vehicles, and enter onto their private property. This happens not just in the southern border region, but also the northern border region. When driving 125 miles away from the border, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy was stopped by a border agent and ordered out of his car. He asked under what authority the agent was acting and the agent pointed at his gun and said, “That’s all the authority I need.”
We have documented the trail of death and abuse that agents have left across our communities, where they have been operating with near impunity and a total lack of transparency as far back as we can remember. Right now in Barrio Logan, community artists are painting a 50-foot-tall mural on the Coronado bridge arches to memorialize Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, who was brutally killed by border agents in San Ysidro in 2010. Like George Floyd, Anastasio cried out for his mother as he was beaten and tazed to death by law enforcement. No agent was ever held accountable.
Portland found out the hard way that because it is located within a 100-mile border enforcement zone — where border agents regularly infringe on constitutional protections and civil liberties — that it is in fact a border city. So are Oakland, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, all cities where President Trump has threatened to deploy more unaccountable federal agents. Just as alarming is the fact that two-thirds of the U.S. population lives within this 100-mile zone.
The Joint Terrorism Task Forces created by the Department of Justice to justify the presence of federal agents in the interior now give border agents the ability to terrorize immigrants and citizens anywhere in the country. The 100 miles is no longer a limitation. Couple that with their “powers without warrant,” and you’ve got an empowered, violent and unaccountable agency that endangers people’s lives, erodes trust in law enforcement and undermines our democracy — which has already been happening along the southern border for decades.
We raised the alarm back in February when Trump deployed Border Patrol’s SWAT-like, anti-terrorism unit called BORTAC to Washington and other cities. These were the same agents responsible for picking up protesters and driving them away in unmarked vehicles in Portland.
This national presence is a dream come true for the Border Patrol, which has long aspired to be a national police force. With their bloated budget, massive pile of military-grade weapons and almost 20,000 agents on hand to do Trump’s bidding, the largest law enforcement agency in the country might now be coming to knock on everybody’s door.
The good thing is that we can do something about it.
It starts with repealing 8 USC 1357(a) which give agents in the border region unique “powers without warrant” that they have used without any probable cause. They have abused these powers to run checkpoints on our roads, roam our streets, and terrorize border communities for far too long. Like when a plain-clothed border agent stopped Valeria Munique Tachiquin coming out of an apartment in Chula Vista and shot her dead. She was a citizen, mother of five, and killed when she attempted to drive away from this unidentified man with a gun. What would you have done?
Repealing these unique powers that are extended to all DHS agents will help stop agents from detaining and arresting children on the way to school, parents on their way to work, and families going about their business. It will help end it here in San Diego and help keep agents from doing the same in other cities around the country.
Finally, we need to put an end to the decades of border militarization policies that have taken the lives of thousands of people, violated human rights and civil liberties, separated families, and criminalized migrants.
Southern border communities, from San Diego to Brownsville, TX, are calling for an end to these deadly policies of the past, and calling to instead blaze a new path forward by embracing a new border vision that protects our civil liberties, including the Fourth Amendment, without exception or excuse.
Our democracy depends on it.
Hiram Soto is the communications director for the Southern Border Communities Coalition.
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