youU.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Friday issued a memo terminating a controversial Border Patrol Oversight Team tasked with investigating incidents involving Border Patrol agents. Instead, investigations will be handled by the Office of Professional Responsibility, a different department that, while still within CBP, is specifically charged with oversight of the agency. Similar offices exist in other government agencies, including the Department of Justice.
The change comes after calls from advocates to end the Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams (BPCIT) program, which is made up of Border Patrol agents tasked with investigating allegations of misconduct by fellow agents or other incidents resulting in injury or death. Democratic members of Congress called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate BPCIT. The House Oversight and Reform Committee also launched an investigation in January.
Democrats on the Hill and immigrant advocates applauded the move on Friday, saying the incidents, including the Border Patrol agent’s use of force that resulted in the deaths of immigrants in their custody, do not should not be investigated by its own staff.
“These teams have been investigating their own officers without official jurisdiction for decades and there have been numerous disturbing reports of BPCIT interference with law enforcement investigations to protect officers and CBP officers,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat from California, in a statement. “Public safety depends on public trust and accountability. I will continue to monitor the dissolution of BPCITs to ensure that proper records are kept to obtain a full account of their actions.
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BPCITs began forming on an ad hoc basis on the US-Mexico border in 1987, first in San Diego, although their official names may vary depending on the border area, according to the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), a network of organizations. in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, which accuses BPCIT of covering up crimes allegedly committed by Border Patrol agents. The SBCC has advocated for an investigation and an end to BPCIT, including sending letters to Congress and associating with family members of deceased immigrants, allegedly through the use of force by Border Patrol agents.
According to the CBP memo released on Friday, the OPR will conduct the investigations beginning Oct. 1. “The OPR will assume full responsibility for the critical incident response function using its own personnel,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus wrote in the memo. “To ensure that our agency achieves the highest levels of accountability, the OPR will be the CBP entity responsible for responding to critical incidents and ensuring that all reviews and investigations are conducted by personnel with the expertise , appropriate training and supervision.”
CBP did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.
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Proponents are also calling for increased transparency in the transition process. “It’s an implicit acknowledgment that these units have no place in investigations,” Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, an immigrant advocacy organization, said in a statement. “To move forward, we need an honest account of what happened so it never happens again.”
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