U.S. border authorities announced changes to their policy for pursuing smugglers and other crime suspects on Wednesday, following an extensive review and criticism by immigrant advocates who pointed to cases in which passengers died when drivers fled 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 Jan. 5. followed the shooting of a Border Patrol officer.
The agency said the updated directive provides a framework for weighing the risks of a pursuit against the law enforcement benefit or need. The agency said it reviewed more than two dozen vehicle pursuit policies from various enforcement agencies across the U.S. to come up with the new policy.
“As a professional law enforcement organization, CBP is continually updating 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 are paramount as we carry out our mission.”
Officials said the policy lays out factors to consider when deciding if a vehicle should be pursued and when a pursuit should be halted — similar to the reasonableness standards that most law enforcement officers consider when handling threats to themselves or the public. It also establishes reporting requirements aimed at improving transparency and accountability.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico had criticized Sunday’s crash and called for the agency to prioritize best practices.
Rebecca Sheff, an attorney with the group, said Wednesday the changes mark an important step forward for border communities. She said preserving human life is paramount, and the policy makes that a central consideration by adopting many widely accepted best practices, such as banning certain techniques for stopping vehicles.
“This revised CBP vehicle pursuit 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 pursuits,” she said.
According to Customs and Border Patrol, the driver in the most recent case sped away and lost control within seconds after an agent turned on his emergency lights.
Federal authorities confirmed Wednesday that an undocumented noncitizen from Mexico was facing charges in connection with Sunday’s deadly rollover and that more arrests were pending.
In August, two brothers from Mexico were charged after fleeing from authorities and crashing their vehicle, killing two and injuring 10 others just miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. The brothers themselves had been smuggled into the U.S. and agreed to bring in more migrants to pay their debt, according to court documents.
Border authorities have said human smuggling has been on the rise in the area, which includes El Paso, Texas, and rural parts of New Mexico. Since October, authorities have located nearly 60 stash houses and more than 650 migrants as part of efforts to curb smuggling in the region.
Homeland Security’s civil rights office informed Customs and Border Protection in February 2022 that it had received multiple complaints about possible civil rights violations stemming from vehicle pursuits over the previous year. The allegations claimed that personnel unnecessarily engage in pursuits at high rates of speeds that were unwarranted.
The CPB’s review began in 2021 and looked at trends and outcomes associated with pursuits. The agency then wrote the new policy over the past year.
The policy will take effect later this year, following training, the agency said. A new branch within the CBP’s Law Enforcement Safety and Compliance Directorate will oversee implementation and training.