United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a memo Friday ending a controversial Border Patrol oversight team charged with investigating incidents involving border enforcement personnel. Instead, investigations will be turned over to the Office of Professional Responsibility, a different department that, while still within CBP, is specifically charged with agency oversight. Similar offices exist at other government agencies, including the Department of Justice.
The change comes after calls by advocates to end the Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams (BPCIT) program, which is comprised of Border Patrol agents charged with investigating accusations of misconduct by their fellow agents or other incidents that result in injury or fatality. Democratic members of Congress called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate BPCIT. The House Committee of Oversight and Reform also launched an investigation in January.
Democrats on the Hill and immigrant advocates cheered the move on Friday, saying incidents, including Border Patrol agent’s use of force that have caused the deaths of immigrants in their custody, should not be investigated by its own personnel.
“These teams have been investigating their own agents without official jurisdiction for decades and there have been numerous disturbing reports of BPCITs interfering with law enforcement investigations to shield CBP officers and agents,” Senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat from California, said in a statement. “Public safety depends on public trust and accountability. I will continue to monitor the disbanding of BPCITs to ensure that proper records are kept in order to get a full accounting of their actions.”
BPCITs began forming in an ad-hoc fashion at the U.S.-Mexico border in 1987, first in San Diego, though their official names can vary depending on the border sector, according to the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), a network of organizations in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, which accuses the BPCITs of covering up crimes allegedly committed by Border Patrol agents. SBCC has been advocating for an investigation and an end to BPCITs, including by sending letters to Congress and partnering with the family members of immigrants who died, allegedly by use of force by Border Patrol agents.
According to the CBP memo issued Friday, OPR will lead investigations beginning Oct. 1. “OPR will assume full responsibility for the critical incident response function utilizing its own assigned personnel,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus wrote in the memo. “To ensure our Agency achieves the highest levels of accountability, OPR will be the CBP entity responsible for responding to critical incidents and ensuring all reviews and investigations are conducted by personnel with appropriate expertise, training, and oversight.”
CBP did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.
Advocates are also calling for increased transparency in the transition process. “This is an implicit acknowledgement that these units have no place in investigations,” Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, an immigrant advocacy organization, said in a statement. “To move forward, we need an honest accounting of what has happened so that it never happens again.”
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