EVOLVING… The story will be updated as new information is verified. Updated 3 times
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — U.S. border enforcement on Wednesday announced changes to its policy on prosecuting smugglers and other suspects after being widely scrutinized and criticized by immigrant advocates who pointed to cases in which passengers died rather than drivers fled from law enforcement.
Customs and Border Protection announced the changes Wednesday, just days after a crash in southern New Mexico that killed two people and injured eight others on Sunday. Another crash on January 5 followed the shooting of a border guard.
The agency said the updated policy provides a framework for balancing the risks of prosecution against the benefits or need for prosecution. The agency said it reviewed more than two dozen vehicle tracking policies from various law enforcement agencies across the United States to develop a new policy.
“As a professional law enforcement organization, CBP continually updates policies to reflect best practices, public safety needs and evolving public expectations,” Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said in a statement. “The safety of officers, agents and the public is of paramount importance as we fulfill our mission.”
Officials said the policy establishes factors to consider when deciding whether to track a vehicle and when to cease tracking — similar to the standards of reasonableness most law enforcement officials consider when dealing with threats to themselves or the public evade. It also establishes reporting requirements aimed at enhancing transparency and accountability.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico had criticized Sunday’s crash and urged the agency to prioritize best practices.
Rebecca Sheff, an attorney for the group, said Wednesday the changes are an important step forward for border communities. She said preserving life is paramount and the policy makes that a key consideration by adopting many widely accepted best practices, such as banning certain vehicle stopping techniques.
“This revised CBP vehicle tracking policy is in many ways the result of tireless advocacy by people who have lost loved ones or been injured by reckless Border Patrol vehicle tracking,” she said.
According to Customs and Border Patrol, in the latest incident, the driver sped away and lost control within seconds after an agent turned on his emergency lights.
Federal authorities confirmed on Wednesday that an undocumented non-citizen Mexican has been charged in connection with Sunday’s fatal rollover and that further arrests are pending.
In August, two brothers from Mexico were charged after fleeing authorities and crashing their vehicle, killing two and injuring 10 others just a few kilometers from the US-Mexico border. The brothers themselves had been smuggled into the US and agreed to bring in more migrants to pay their debts, according to court documents.
Border officials have said people smuggling has increased in the region, which includes El Paso, Texas and rural parts of New Mexico. Since October, authorities have located nearly 60 hidden houses and more than 650 migrants in a bid to stem smuggling in the region.
The Homeland Security Civil Rights Office told Customs and Border Protection in February 2022 that it had received several complaints over the past year about possible civil rights violations stemming from vehicle tracking. The allegations alleged that personnel were unnecessarily conducting pursuits at high speeds that were unwarranted.
The review of the CPB began in 2021 and looked at trends and findings related to activities. The agency then wrote the new policy last year.
The policy will come into effect later this year after training, the agency said. A new department within CBP’s Directorate of Safety and Law Enforcement Compliance will oversee implementation and training.