Border Congressmen Sponsor Bipartisan Bill

By Mónica Ortiz Uribe
February 10, 2014
Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Congressman Steve Pearce of New Mexico receives a worn backpack filled with supplies to symbolize the journey of immigrants who enter the country illegally.

ANTHONY, N.M. — Two border congressmen are working across party lines on a bill that aims to hold federal border agents accountable for abuses. They announced their intentions Saturday morning in this border town.

Families waving American flags cheered to the beat of Mexican country music in a crowded church auditorium as the two representatives took to the stage. 

U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, Texas, and one of the bill's co-sponsors, told the crowd the legislation will create a commission to oversee the actions of federal law enforcement on the southern border.  

"There will be an ombudsman, so if you are crossing one of our international bridges and you feel that you've been treated less than respectfully, or in extreme cases you've been abused as you come over, you have one place and one person to call," O'Rourke said.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican from Southern New Mexico, is also co-sponsoring the bill. He said he hopes their partnership will set an example in Washington.

"We just can't keep sitting here on different sides of a political fence and hammering and shooting artillery shells into the other camp," Pearce said. "It's not working."

The bill will also include additional human rights training for federal border officers. 

Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Families in Anthony, New Mexico hold up posters in support of immigration reform during a visit from two local congressmen.

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently suing two U.S Customs and Border Protection agents on behalf of a woman who claims she was subjected to invasive body searches. 

Other federal agencies seem to be making progress. The Border Network for Human Rights, an immigrant advocacy organization, reported that community relations with the U.S. Border Patrol are improving. The group does an annual survey of law enforcement abuse. In 2013, for the first time in 13 years, they received no abuse reports related to interactions with the Border Patrol.

O'Rourke and Pearce have also co-sponsored a bill that would prevent minor immigration violations from separating families trying to legally enter the country.