WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Congressman Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia (D-IL) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan demanding answers on the deployment of CBP Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) officers to enable Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activities in cities including Boston, New York, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans and Newark.
In the letter, the lawmakers, all of whom represent cities targeted by the BORTAC deployment, requested further information on the deployment no later than February 28, 2020.
“BORTAC officers’ highly militarized training raises serious questions and concerns about their capacity to engage in community-based settings,” write the lawmakers. “Highly militarized and armed SWAT- like officials will not make our streets any safer, and their engagement may result in injuries and even casualties given BORTAC’s inexperience managing community-based scenarios.”
Congresswoman Pressley has been a staunch advocate for immigrants and an outspoken opponent of the Trump Administration’s xenophobic policies. Last year, she led a bicameral effort to reinstate medical deferred action for critically ill immigrants receiving lifesaving care in the United States. In June of 2019, she visited US Customs and Border Patrol facilities at the southern border and testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on the human rights abuses she witnessed. Prior to that, she joined colleagues on the House Financial Services Committee to demand the withdrawal of a proposal by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to terminate housing benefits for mixed-immigration status families who rely on HUD’s public and assisted housing programs.
The full text of the letter is below and can be found here.
Chad F. Wolf
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Mark A. Morgan
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Commissioner Morgan,
We write to express significant concern about the Trump Administration’s deployment of a Special Forces-type tactical unit from the southern border to several cities across the United States. According to news reports, the Department of Homeland Security (OHS) has deployed 100 officers as part of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) to enable Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activities in cities including Boston, New York, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans and Newark. Under current orders, units are responding to the “threat” of policies adopted by sanctuary cities. There is no clear justification for this escalation of immigration enforcement. Furthermore, unilaterally doing so, without first consulting with Congress, is also an inappropriate allocation of resources of a unit whose purpose is to confront other high-risk threats.
This unprecedented move follows a pattern of escalated hostilities targeting cities throughout the country that uphold the safety and humanity of our immigrant neighbors. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have confirmed that BORTAC officers will be deployed to several cities from February through May “in order to enhance the integrity of the immigration system, protect public safety and strengthen our national security.” BORTAC officers are heavily armed and receive training for high-risk military operations that mirror aspects of the U.S. Special Operation Forces. BORTAC officers’ highly militarized training raises serious questions and concerns about their capacity to engage in community-based settings. Highly militarized and armed SWAT- like officials will not make our streets any safer, and their engagement may result in injuries and even casualties given BORTAC’s inexperience managing community-based scenarios.
The use of excessive force by federal officers enforcing immigration laws has already resulted in casualties and drawn scrutiny from Members of Congress. Earlier this month agents with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) division shot a man on one of his hands then struck his face4 while attempting to serve a deportation order in Brooklyn, New York. The man, unnamed, was besieged by agents who allegedly tackled him without identifying themselves as immigration enforcement agents. The use of force displayed in this incident seriously undermines ICE’ s credibility in the field and draws serious questions about its capabilities as a federal law enforcement agency. Deploying additional officers with even more arms and tactical training will only raise the already heightened sense of fear and anxiety in our immigrant communities.
CBP officials have also said that the goal of this joint operation is to increase arrests by at least 35 percent. Setting arbitrary arrest benchmarks or quotas push ICE agents to treat immigrant families like targets and numbers, instead of human beings. Additionally, arbitrary quotas incentivize mass deportation sweeps that increase the likelihood of collateral arrests of family members, friends and other community members. Furthermore, the directive is particularly concerning, as the agency has consistently lacked transparency or oversight, and has a history of sweeping up citizens.6
Our communities are not war zones. We demand that you reverse course and immediately withdraw BORTAC and any other recently deployed CBP officers from our streets and neighborhood s. We also ask that your agencies provide answers to the following questions by February 28, 2020:
Thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.
- Please provide a full list of the cities where BORTAC or any other CBP officers have been deployed, including the number of BORTAC officers deployed and the anticipated length of time of their deployment.
- Please provide any directives, policies or guidance outlining how BORTAC or any other CBP officers will be expected to enable ICE enforcement activities throughout the interior.
- Please describe with citations CBP’s legal authority to enforce immigration laws outside 100 miles of an international border.
- Please list all protocols and safeguards that are in place to ensure BORTAC or any other recently deployed CBP officers are equipped and trained to engage in community-based settings.
- Were BORTAC or any other recently deployed CBP officers provided with any additional training to engage in community-based settings prior to this deployment? If so, please desc1ibe such training and the dates in which they were offered.
- CBP officials have claimed that the goal of this joint operation is to increase arrests by at least 35 percent. Provide the rationale behind the stated 35 percent arrest target and any guidance and directives associated with the operation.
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