U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced today plans to dissolve Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams (CITs) by October 1, 2022. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the ACLU of Texas welcome the decision while also calling upon the agency to preserve all past records created by the CITs and initiate an independent review of cases impacted by CIT involvement. The agency should also limit CITs’ involvement in investigations between now and dissolvement and report publicly on CITs’ involvement in future cases.
Critical Incident Teams — first uncovered by the Southern Border Communities Coalition in October 2021 — are Border Patrol agents tasked with the stated goal of mitigating civil liability for the agency. When Border Patrol agents are involved in shootings, deadly vehicle pursuits and other incidents, CITs arrive to collect evidence, conduct witness interviews, and act in ways that can deprive victims and their families of accountability and transparency.
Critical Incident Teams are not independent or impartial internal affairs units and have no legal authorization to do this work. Their involvement has tainted an unknown number of investigations into Border Patrol misconduct. The ACLU of Texas has tracked 218 fatal encounters involving CBP personnel since January 2010, including an 11-fold increase in deaths resulting from Border Patrol vehicle pursuits from 2019 to 2021 -- the type of incidents CITs are tasked with investigating. It is unknown how many of those incidents included a CIT-led investigation.
Rebecca Sheff, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico, issued the following statement:
“This CBP announcement is a long-overdue acknowledgment of Critical Incident Teams’ shameful role in protecting Border Patrol agents from accountability for their often deadly actions. The agency must now take additional steps to bring justice to the victims of Border Patrol misconduct and their families by conducting fair, thorough and independent reviews of previous cases that have been undermined by CITs’ involvement. In addition, the agency should move quickly to establish a process by which noncitizens whose rights were violated by CITs and who were denied an opportunity to seek accountability for mistreatment may obtain U-visa certification.”
Shaw Drake, staff attorney and policy counsel for the ACLU of Texas, issued the following statement:
“Border Patrol’s Critical Incident Teams should have never existed and cannot be disbanded soon enough. The units are walking conflicts of interest, tasked with responding to the scene before any independent agency, and investigating their own fellow Border Patrol agents following deadly or potentially abusive incidents.
For an agency rife with impunity, this is a welcomed step in the right direction. But the victims of Border Patrol abuses and their families deserve to know if the actions of these unauthorized units impacted their cases. We will continue to seek justice for those impacted by CBP abuses.”
Between January 2010 and April 11, 2022, 75 people have died due to Border Patrol vehicle pursuits, as tracked by the ACLU of Texas, including an August 2021 crash along New Mexico Highway 185 that killed two people and resulted in the hospitalization of eight others. Two Border Patrol pursuits in El Paso in 2020 resulted in the deaths of eight people, including four El Paso teenagers. As recently as April 13, a pursuit initiated by Border Patrol near Laredo, Texas led to the death of one woman. On May 6, Border Patrol announced that on April 15 two people died in a collision following a Border Patrol pursuit near Las Cruces.