WASHINGTON, DC –Today at a Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) expressed concern over continuing abuses such as racial profiling, excessive use of force, and searches far from the actual U.S. border by federal law enforcement officials. Cantwell told Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano of a recently settled Washington state case in which the federal government agreed to pay $48,000 to a victim of alleged excessive force by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents. Isabel Valencia-Perez of Mount Vernon, WA, alleged he was assaulted in June 2006 far from the U.S. border by two U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents while waiting for his 6-year-old son at a bus stop.
“When we have cases being settled against border agents, we have issues we need to address,” Cantwell told Napolitano. What steps are we taking to ensure that the agents don’t engage in racial profiling, and what is being done to make sure that all Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents are targeting the most significant threats at the northern borders?”
When Napolitano denied that her department engages in racial profiling and other abuses, Cantwell pressed that there needs to be more dialogue. “My constituents still tell me about incidents of alleged racial profiling,” Cantwell said in the hearing. “They are concerned about random stops by Border Patrol far away from the actual border. There is worry about who is being detained. Some feel that the focus seems to be more on immigration violations and less on greater potential threats to homeland security like the Millennium Bomber Ahmed Ressam, who was caught by a customs official in Port Angeles, Washington.” Cantwell’s concerns focus on components of the Department of Homeland Security, including the U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Cantwell has been advocating an increase of resources for the northern U.S. border. Before 2001, there were only 350 U.S. Border Patrol agents along the entire 4,000-mile U.S.-Canadian border. Today there are more than 1,300.
Cantwell acknowledged Commissioner on Customs and Border Protection Designate Alan Bersin for visiting Washington state and starting a dialogue with key stakeholders. Cantwell thanked DHS for this effort, and for meeting her requests for increased funding and resources at the Northern Border, but asserted she hopes the review will continue to ensure resources are being used effectively to target real security threats.