Thanks to the work of the Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC), expanded immigration enforcement by U.S. Border Patrol agents is drawing media scrutiny. A page-one story in the New York Times on Aug. 30, and a related editorial in the paper two days later, both relied heavily on information uncovered by the IRC. The story, by reporter Nina Bernstein, described a little-noticed but widespread campaign of transportation checks by Border Patrol agents on buses and trains that never cross an international border. The IRC is challenging these document-check stops in several deportation cases, in part by contending that the Border Patrol has no authority to engage in such internal enforcement. In connection with these cases, the IRC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and obtained government data about those arrested. “What we got through litigation was a spreadsheet with data on all transportation arrests in the Rochester [New York] area,” says Professor of Clinical Law Nancy Morawetz '81, a supervising attorney of the IRC. “That allowed us to document the numbers of arrests, how much time those arrested had been in the country, and Border Patrol compliance with certain regulations.” That data showed, for example, that 95% of the Rochester-area arrests were from transportation checks, and not from patrols to stop illegal entry. Students working on the litigation were Alba Villa '11, Jeanette Markle '10, Maribel Hernandez '10, and Carly Leinheiser '09.
Bernstein’s story, including its focus on the Rochester area, where such transportation checks are frequent, grew out of information compiled by the IRC. In its September 1 editorial prompted by Bernstein’s account, the Times again cited statistics unearthed by the IRC and warned that the rapidly growing Border Patrol “is looking like an agency distorted by mission creep.” Morawetz is similarly concerned that the Border Patrol, impelled by the highly charged debate over immigration, is acting well beyond its mandate. “The bigger story here," she says, "is that immigration enforcement policy is made with rhetoric that has little to do with the reality of enforcement."

Posted on September 2, 2010