Statement of Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center
Today U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the border enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), released long-awaited national standards governing the treatment of all individuals in its custody. In light of years of human rights complaints showing the harm individuals, including children, face when CBP is allowed to operate without oversight, the agency should make every effort necessary to ensure it upholds the full intent of the new standards.
The National Standards on Transport, Escort, Search and Detention (TEDS) policy comes more than a year after Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and four partner organizations* filed a mass civil rights complaint on behalf of 116 children who reported experiencing abuse and mistreatment while in CBP custody. The complaint documented examples of verbal, sexual, and physical abuse; prolonged detention in squalid conditions; and a severe lack of essential necessities such as beds, food, and water. Although that complaint remains under review by DHS, robust implementation of TEDS could begin to address the kinds of allegations these children articulated.
TEDS is the first-ever public effort by CBP to provide minimum standards for its custody operations nationwide. If implemented in good faith and with meaningful oversight, TEDS has the potential to improve CBP’s treatment of individuals in its custody. The standards address such issues as maximum length of time in custody, the use of restraints, proper conducting of searches, the conditions under which detainees may be held, and of particular importance, CBP’s treatment of juveniles and other at-risk populations.
NIJC welcomes the release of the new TEDS policy as a much-needed first step toward consistent, improved treatment of those in CBP’s custody. CBP must use TEDS as a building block for improvements going forward and ensure accountability at all of its locations and under all circumstances.
Although the TEDS policy is long overdue, NIJC appreciates CBP’s willingness to engage with stakeholders in the drafting of these standards and looks forward to further collaboration with the agency as implementation proceeds. Given the enormous flexibility CBP gives itself in TEDS to implement what is “operationally feasible” and the lack of accountability mechanisms built into the policy itself, meaningful oversight and transparency by CBP headquarters and stakeholders during the roll-out of the standards will be essential. NIJC urges CBP to capitalize on TEDS as the mechanism for treating all those in its custody humanely and with dignity and respect.
*NIJC filed the civil rights complaint in partnership with ACLU Border Litigation Project, Americans for Immigrant Justice, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, and Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project.