Opinion: Growing up, Border Patrol harassed my community. I am now working to hold the agency accountable.


Ramirez is a community activist and policy director with SEIU USWW who lives in Sherman Heights.

My 8 year old son asked me recently if I had ever been arrested.

I’m not sure what prompted his question, but in this time of heightened awareness of the safety of our children, I paused to explain that indeed I had been arrested several times by security forces. order.

He was surprised and confused by my answer, and I tried to explain to him that sometimes good people get into good trouble and are arrested by the police.

I grew up in the border communities of San Ysidro and Nestor, less than a mile from the border wall. When I was a high school student, I was detained and handcuffed by a Border Patrol agent on my way to school. This is by far the most vivid memory I have of my high school years.

In 1994, Operation Gatekeeper, an iron-fisted federal border enforcement policy that militarized border communities, had just been launched by the Clinton administration, laying the groundwork for excessive surveillance of our region. . The expansion of the powers of the Border Patrol, the largest law enforcement agency in the United States, has increased its ability to exploit immigration checkpoints, board public transportation, search private property without a warrant and trampling on our most cherished rights, thereby turning all border residents into suspects. .

Virtually everyone I knew – my parents, our neighbors, my friends, my teachers – had been interrogated, harassed or detained by Border Patrol agents.

Since those high school days, I have dedicated my life to organizing in the border region so that we ordinary people can go about our business without government interference, harassment and abuse.

I have been repeatedly arrested, threatened and harassed by federal agents for witnessing their abusive actions.

The course was extremely difficult but not devoid of victories.

In June 2010, my wife and I were walking across a pedestrian bridge that spanned a pedestrian entrance into Mexico at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, and I noticed male Customs and Border Protection officers searching the travellers. I took several photos to document the officers’ abusive behavior and continued walking. At the bottom of the bridge, a line of federal agents awaited us.

I was threatened with violence if I did not hand over my recording device to federal agents. I obeyed and all photos I took of the incident have been deleted. I knew very well that the agents were capable of violence. Days before this incident with CBP, federal agents were involved in a use-of-force incident that resulted in the death of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas, not far from where the male agents were patting down female travelers.

Later I learned that at Calexico in 2012, Ray Askins, an environmental justice activist, who was taking photos documenting unnecessary delays at the port of entry in neighboring Imperial County, was also victimized. abusive behavior. His photographs were also destroyed by overzealous border agents.

With the support of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, we filed a federal lawsuit and in September 2020 reached a landmark settlement that established that we all have the First Amendment right of record and photograph publicly visible laws. law enforcement activity at all U.S. land ports of entry

This is an important step that will help border residents hold Customs and Border Protection officers accountable. This agency is not only the biggest, it is also secretive and deadly. Over the past 12 years, more than 200 people died in meetings with Customs and Border Protection officers, but not a single Border Patrol officer was sentenced of wrongdoing.

I don’t know when I’ll share all of this with my son, all the times I’ve been accosted, harassed and intimidated by law enforcement for standing up for our rights, and why I felt compelled to risk be arrested or worse.

But I know he knows that sometimes it takes the extra mile to make things better for everyone. I sure hope he never has to endure the indignity of being a kid detained and handcuffed for walking to school and if someone happens to be there to document it.

We now have more tools to hold CBP officials accountable and getting in good trouble was worth it. If you believe your First Amendment right to photograph and record government activity in public view at or near land ports of entry into the United States has been violated, let the ACLU know. visiting : action.aclu.org/webform/help-us-hold-cbp-officials-accountable.

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Customs and Border Protection Declaration

Customs and Border Protection has made the signage changes agreed to as part of the settlement by February 2021. CBP has also informed its employees of the terms of the settlement, including that, except as otherwise provided in the settlement, they may not not interfere with visual or audio recording in publicly accessible outdoor areas in our land ports. It should be noted that the settlement did not impact the agency’s ability to restrict check-in to “restricted areas” of our land port, including indoor facilities and outdoor areas. routinely used by CBP employees to process or inspect persons or vehicles crossing any international border, including any outdoor areas to which members of the public generally do not have access unless crossing the United States border. United.



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