- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Department of Homeland Security announced a new vehicle-pursuit policy Wednesday that will severely limit when Border Patrol agents can pursue migrant smugglers, saying the cat-and-mouse game has become too dangerous for everyone involved.

The policy, released by Customs and Border Protection’s acting commissioner, bans agents from trying to box in a fleeing car or from using a pursuit immobilization technique in which a car is intentionally nudged to get it to stop.

The policy also discourages pursuits when a suspect is fleeing above the speed limit, is overloaded with illegal immigrants or is headed toward a more populated area. All are frequent occurrences in Border Patrol chases.

CBP said the new rules do not ban pursuits but are needed to reduce the danger and force agents to evaluate whether the suspected crime is serious enough to deserve a chase.

“The safety of officers, agents and the public are paramount as we carry out our mission,” said Troy Miller, the agency’s acting head.

The National Border Patrol Council, which represents agents, said it was still reviewing the changes but at first glance said it seems that the more recklessly a suspect drives, the better the chance that the person will force agents to stop pursuing.

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“There is a lot to be said for police backing off when they know who the criminal is and they can take the person into custody later, but in our job, the vast majority of vehicles used to smuggle are not registered to the person driving, so even if we run the license plate and find out who the registered owner is, we have to prove the owner was the driver or had knowledge,” said Brandon Judd, the union’s president. “Very difficult.”

Pursuits have become touchy issues for law enforcement departments nationwide, and policies limiting pursuits to certain crimes have proliferated. Some major city departments have adopted policies allowing chases only when a violent crime is involved.

CBP said it studied some of those policies in writing its new version.

The agency is grappling with the worst border chaos on record, including unprecedented levels of fentanyl, terrorism suspects and illegal border crossers.

Migrant deaths have surged to record levels, according to CBP data and public reports, many of them in horrific vehicle crashes.

The policy will take effect in May, after training. It replaces a more permissive policy released late in the Trump administration.

CBP said agents and officers make the same kinds of risk decisions with any other use of force incident. Although chases don’t always involve force, the risk is there.

Supervisors have been instructed to keep a close rein on pursuits, and reporting requirements have been imposed so the agency can figure out what sorts of chases are still happening under the new policy.

The policy applies to officers who man the ports of entry and to agents who guard the boundaries between the ports, though it’s the agents who are likely to be the most constrained.

Chases with speeds topping 100 miles per hour are regular occurrences. Smuggling drivers are increasingly reckless on the roads as they try to speed people and drugs north from the Mexican border.

In one October case, agents in Arizona chased after a 2012 Nissan Murano whose driver refused to pull over. The SUV topped 100 miles an hour and the driver turned out the lights to black out the vehicle and make it tougher to keep tabs while veering over the double-yellow line into oncoming lanes.

Agents stopped their pursuit, but a CBP helicopter kept an eye on the vehicle and directed agents to the location where it had pulled into a gas station. Agents rushed there and the vehicle took off again, nearly striking an agent on foot. The driver was eventually nabbed and told agents he was being paid in fentanyl pills to smuggle six migrants to Tucson.

One common tactic for ending a pursuit has been to use a spike strip or vehicle immobilization device.

Even with multiple tires shredded, some smugglers drive on the rims in hopes of escaping.

In one September pursuit, agents in California spotted migrants getting into a Ford Edge. An agent spiked the tires, but the SUV barreled on before breaking down. The driver and three migrants made a run for it, leaving behind a child screaming in a car seat.

Agents said in court documents that the driver later admitted that the child was her son. She said she was being paid $3,000 per person she smuggled.

The three migrants she was carrying said they sneaked into the U.S. in an area with no border fence and paid $15,000 apiece to be smuggled.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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