EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Migrant advocacy groups are not the only ones concerned with vehicle crashes near the U.S.-Mexico border involving drivers fleeing law enforcement. Such crashes have claimed three lives and sent more than a dozen people to hospitals in the El Paso area in the past two months and remain under investigation by El Paso and New Mexico State Police, respectively.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, this week said she is expecting the Department of Homeland Security to rewrite vehicle pursuit guidelines for its immigration enforcement agencies for the safety of everyone involved.
“From the get-go, we have been in communication with DHS – after one of the first fatal accidents – about their high-speed vehicle chase policies, the risks and dangers in urban areas and really adopting best practices from well respected local le agencies across the country,” she told Border Report.
One tenant of such best practices includes limiting vehicle chases in urban areas in which the driver is suspected of illicit activity. Another is taking into consideration the severity of the offense involved.
“We’ve had too many cases not just here but all over the border in which people have been hurt or killed and vehicles crash into houses. […] We believe a new policy is needed, along with more training for agents,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
According to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection directive on emergency vehicle pursuits issued in January 2021, chases are authorized when a driver fails to stop at an immigration checkpoint, fails to stop when a federal officer or border agent directs him to stop, or a vehicle is suspected of having come into the country between ports of entry.
Vehicle pursuits are not authorized or should be called off if there’s immediate danger to the public or if there is proximity to schools, heavy traffic flow, or nearby pedestrians, among others. Agents with apprehended migrants in the back of their vehicles are banned from participating in chases; CBP also encourages the “use of alternatives to pursuit, including the use of (vehicle immobilization devices)” such as tire-deflation tools.
Garcia said the safety of innocent migrants being transported by drivers who elect to attempt to evade the U.S. Border Patrol also should be contemplated in any new policy.
“We are in favor of a tactical approach that includes de-escalation. We have seen low-speed pursuits where the police cars stay far back that result in the driver (eventually) coming to a stop or running out of gas,” Garcia said. “They have the (tire-deflation devices) and the tactical resources to elaborate a better policy.”
He said activism in the wake of high-profile use-of-force cases by law enforcement has gradually resulted in a national de-escalation of the use of lethal force, for instance. He would like to see a similar de-escalation when it comes to pursuits of vehicles transporting migrants at high speeds in U.S. border communities.
Escobar said she is looking forward to seeing revised DHS policies to ban high-speed federal law enforcement chases in urban areas.
“DHS assured us from the get-go of this administration that they were going to be rewriting those policies. I’ve spoken with some of my colleagues (in Congress) and if we’re not satisfied with the new policies, I stand ready to write legislation around this issue,” she said.