Proposed Bill Would Exempt Customs And Border Protection From FOIA Compliance [Updated]
from the who-needs-laws-when-you-operate-in-the-constitution-free-zone? dept
[Update: Thanks to reporting by the Tuscon Sentinel, Rep. Martha McSally has stripped this exemption from the bill and added language clarifying the law should not be construed as exempting CBP from its FOIA duties.]
To build a wall, you’ve got to break a few laws. That’s the message being sent by a new bill, which helps pave the way for the eventual construction of a border wall by exempting the CBP and US Border Patrol from a large number of federal laws.
H.R. 3548 [PDF] would give the CBP a free pass to ignore all sorts of federal restrictions when engaging in its enforcement activities. All the things citizens can’t legally do on federal land, the CBP and Border Patrol would be allowed to. This would keep the federal government from getting in its own way in the event wall construction actually takes place, as well as keep CBP agents from worrying about polluting, killing endangered species, or violating sacred grave sites while pursuing undocumented aliens.
The authority is so broad that CBP and its officers are given exemptions from the requirements of 36 different federal laws, including but not limited to, the National Environment Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Fish and Wildlife Act, the Eagle Protection Act, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, AND “Subchapter 5, and chapter 7 of title 5, United States Code (commonly known as the ‘Administrative Procedure Act’).”
The last one listed is why the American Society of News Editors is commenting on the bill. The Administrative Procedure Act covers federal FOIA law. If this goes through unaltered, it could easily be read to exempt the CBP and Border Patrol from responding to open records requests pertaining to their activities… pretty much everything these entities do. The bill covers everything from tactical infrastructure efforts to detainments to patrol efforts.
ASNE isn’t quite sure what to make of this exemption being included, but knows there’s no way the law should be passed with this part intact.
It’s unclear whether this reading is accurate, or intended, but unless someone asks, we might not know until it is too late. Unfortunately, there has been little to no stated opposition to this bill, so it could very well pass the House Committee on Wednesday, and later the entire House, unchecked.
The risk of leaving this stone unturned is clear: The public and press would be in the dark with regard to CBP activities near the border. We wouldn’t have access to records of arrests, injuries, deaths and other major incidents at the border or the costs of securing the borders, including the cost and other details of building a border wall.
It could have been a mistake with legislators wishing to exempt CBP from something else, but if it can be read as excusing ICE from its FOIA duties, you can be sure that’s exactly how the agency will read it. Alerting representatives is the only way this will receive any attention, considering it’s just a few words in the middle of a 102-page bill seeking expanded powers for the agency.