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New World Border Cuellar Bill Would Boost Border Patrol Powers BY JENNIFER WONG S A FEDERAL public de fender four years ago, Gustavo Acevedo was accustomed to the three-and-a-half-hour journey. on Highway 59 between his home in Laredo and a Corpus Christi court. During nine years of traveling the road, he also came to expect regular interference from the U.S. Border Patrol. Almost every other time Acevedo made the drive, Border Patrol officers pulled over his Ford Fairmont and asked him for identification for no apparent reason. “That’s the price we pay for living near the border,” Acevedo now says. “The Constitution appliesexcept if your skin is browner and you drive an older car.” Martin Acevedo, Gustavo’s son and a paralegal assistant for the Refugee Assistance Council of Laredo, recently told House members, “If my father made a formal complaint every time the Border Patrol stopped him without reason, the stack of paperwork would be this high,” indicating a spot several feet above the floor. The younger Acevedo attended a House Public Safety Committee hearing on February 13 to speak out against his own district’s representative Democrat Henry Cuellar. Legislation introduced by Cuellar, House Bill 51, would vastly expand the authority of the Border Patrol by granting it the power of arrest, search and seizure to enforce Texas state law for felony and misdemeanor offenses. Like many other representatives of civil liberties and immigration groups across the state, Martin Acevedo contended that since Border Patrol agents have historically abused the power they already hold to , enforce federal immigration law, such a vast extension of power would inevitably lead to even greater abuse. He submitted his father’s story as one of many examples of how the Border Patrol already interferes with the daily life of both U.S. citizens and non-citizens. Almost everyone now knows of the brutal exploits of the Los Angeles Police Department, but many Texans are oblivious to the terror that the Immigration and Naturalizaagency, perpetrates along their own state’s border. These Texans include the House members who heard testimony for HB 51 all of whom are white, none of whom live near the border, and several who didn’t appear to believe the people who came to testify. Wiitnesses who accused the INS of human-rights violations were often greeted with suspicion. After one witness cited a litany of INS misdeeds, one representative asked him, “Do you have any proof?” Those who live near the border particularly those of Hispanic descent are constantly reminded of the threat of Border Patrol racism and violence, both through personal experience and newspaper headlines. Two Guatemalan men, who filed a civil rights suit late last month, report that Border Patrol agents in Falfurrias tortured them with a flashlight and cattle prod until they signed statements implicating one of them in a smuggling attempt. Last April, a U.S. Border Patrol agent in San Antonio allegedly beat Maria Cristina Casas, a U.S. citizen, after she refused to be provoked into striking him. The abuse of authority extends far beyond the U.S. border. Maria Ines Martinez, a legal resident, was detained in Euless and deported to Mexico last year even though her husband apparently tried several times to show Bor The INS com plaint process protects the reputation of the agency more than the rights of people. der Patrol agents her documents. Johnathan Bernstein, who works for Proyecto Adelante \(part of the North Texas Immigration Coalinessed Border Patrol abuse as far north as Sherman, where agents recently conducted a series of raids on private homes. “The Border Patrol has no idea what is meant by due process or probable cause,” said Bernstein. The American Friends Service Committee, through its Immigration Law Enforcement past three years, documented hundreds of cases of wrongful harassment, detention, arrest, injury, and even death of American citizens, legal residents, and Mexican immigrants all of which the INS denies. Maria Jimenez, ILEMP director, argues that most incidents remain undocumented and uncorrected because the INS complaint process protects the reputation of the agency more than the rights of people an opinion that California Congressman Jim Bates shares \(“Agents of Abuse,” TO, chronic mistreatment of Mexican citizens by INS officials even led Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari to voice his complaints to President Bush when they met last November. While Cuellar has agreed not to push his Border Patrol bill this session \(he’s letting it groups will continue to keep a vigilant eye on the legislation. Guadalupe Luna, an attor ney for the Mexican American Legal Defense turbed by the fact that such an offensive bill was even introduced. “The minute we fall asleep is the minute they’ll put it through,” she said. The issue will likely resurface, in Texas, not only because Cuellar said he may reintroduce it next session, but also because the Border Patrol has consistently pushed on both the local and national level for general police authority in other words, the right to protect its agents from liability Tand to militarize the border.. HANKS TO THE efforts of U.S. Representative Lamar Smith of San Antonio, Congress has already given the Border Patrol the power to arrest people for violations of federal law in the 1990 Immigration Act. Although Duke Austin, the national spokesperson for the INS, has denied it, the U.S. Border Patrol has lobbied for increased power in all border states, and has already won “peace officer” status in New Mexico and Arizona. “They snuck it through by an amendment on a major appropriations bill last year,” said Isavel Garcia of the League of Civil Rights in. Tucson, who added that the increased power of INS agents has already compounded problems of abuse. “The drug war has given them the impetus and liberties that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Garcia said. As in Arizona, officials in Texas mouth the rhetoric of former drug czar William Bennett. Jose Flores, general counsel for the U.S. Border Patrol in Laredo, wrote in a Septem: ber 15, 1989 letter to Cuellar that it was “essential” that Border Patrol Agents gain peace officer status because “the time is right for State recognition in our common involvement with the War on. Drugs.” Flores said that Border Patrol agents frequently participate in state and county task force drug operations, and that within the past few years, Border Patrol narcotics seizures have increased 2,000-fold. Civil-rights activists oppose such close cooperation between federal and state enforcement agencies because of accountabil 4 APRIL 19, 1991