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Be wary of the Border Patrol’s presence at protests

Pedro Ríos  |  Issue: July 2020

In response to protests demanding justice for George Floyd’s murder throughout the United States, the large demonstrations have become an opportunity for the Border Patrol to attempt to bill itself as a police force capable of handling the duties of a municipal police department, and we should be wary of this development.

The Trump administration deployed an unknown number of militarized police forces from different federal agencies. It included about 400 Border Patrol agents, seen marching through Washington, D.C. This is troubling because it would suggest Border Patrol is engaging in law enforcement duties typically outside of its jurisdiction.

 

ICE agent

PHOTO: ice.gov

 

In San Diego, Border Patrol agents dressed in camouflaged outfits flanked San Diego sheriff’s deputies as they guarded a Home Depot in Santee, California, during a protest where over 2,000 people participated. Other Border Patrol agents were redirecting traffic, an odd task usually taken on by local municipal police or sheriff’s deputies.

For Border Patrol, this really is not about traffic control, but about normalizing their presence for bigger national aspirations. These aspirations seem to be about reconfiguring the largest law enforcement body in the Western Hemisphere as a national police force, expanding its jurisdiction from the border into the interior. This is dangerous because the Border Patrol has a history of being unaccountable, opaque, and it operates with impunity.

We know that their SWAT unit, BORTAC, already supports ICE during raids targeting sanctuary cities. We also learned that Border Patrol’s parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, flew its drone around the protests in Minneapolis. High-ranking Border Patrol officials have posted images of their agents protecting police from “lawless rioting and other criminal activities.” This is what was conveyed in a now-deleted tweet by the San Diego Border Patrol Sector Chief Aaron M. Heitke, where agents posed with their weapons around an altar for George Floyd.

As protests continue, we need to be attentive to opportunistic movements the administration will try to make, especially considering how a dangerous law enforcement agency such as the Border Patrol might position itself as a viable policing solution. To accept this would be a serious mistake that would endanger our civil liberties and place more lives at risk.

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