Acting Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Chris Sale expressed opposition Wednesday to a House bill that would create an independent panel to investigate complaints of civil rights abuse by Border Patrol officers, proposing instead that such cases be reviewed internally.
Agents responsible for patrolling the U.S.-Mexican border have been accused of committing numerous civil rights violations against both U.S. citizens and those who cross the border illegally, including beatings, sexual misconduct and unjustified shootings.
House legislation introduced by Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) would provide for an independent review commission appointed by President Clinton to investigate such complaints.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on international law, immigration and refugees, and in a testy exchange with panel members, Sale said that the existing review system within the INS is adequate for handling civil rights complaints, arguing that another panel would unnecessarily create more government bureaucracy.
She also said the INS plans to create a citizens advisory panel to review civilian complaints of abuse by employees of the INS. Establishment of that panel, which awaits Justice Department approval, would provide a forum for investigating the same kinds of abuses addressed in the House bill, Sale said.
But Becerra and others who testified before the subcommittee called the proposed reforms by the INS inadequate and said the agency has not been capable of carrying out proper internal reviews.
“Ten years have passed since the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued its report, ‘The Tarnished Golden Door: Civil Rights Issues in Immigration,’ ” said Becerra, referring to the 1980 study that found widespread abuses in the system. “The INS and the Department of Justice . . . have certainly had ample opportunity to correct the serious problems in enforcement and in the complaint process.
“An independent commission will inject objectivity and integrity into the complaint process,” he said.
Others agreed, saying that the INS’ record of inaction made passage of the bill necessary.
“I have learned that waiting for the INS to change internally to bring about the desired changes will simply be lost time,” said Jose Moreno, who directs refugee-assistance programs for the Catholic Church in El Paso, Tex.
His sentiments were echoed by Mario Moreno, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “In our view, this review commission is a critical remedy, given INS’s long history of unresponsiveness and lack of accountability,” he said.