More than two dozen civil liberties and immigration groups are urging congressional Democrats to oppose measures that would advance the use of invasive surveillance tech at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a letter that will be sent Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Democratic leadership and the full membership of the House, the groups argue that such technology would “intrude on the liberties of travelers, immigrants, and people who live near the border.”
Signed by Fight For the Future, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, among other groups, the letter was written in response to a proposal released last week by House Democrats calling for “Smart, Effective Border Security.” Members of Congress have less than two weeks to reach an immigration deal before the government could shut down again.
In their proposal, Democrats said they would advocate for, among other things, “New cutting edge technology along the border to improve situational awareness”; “an expansion of risk based targeting”; and an expansion of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s “air and marine operations along the border and in U.S. waters” in negotiations with Republicans over immigration and border security.
The groups took issue with those measures. They said such proposals will lead to the deployment of facial recognition surveillance at the border; funding for automatic license plate readers that would collect information beyond the scope of cars crossing the border; and automated immigration enforcement such as “predictive policing” that rely on mathematical analytics to prevent potential crime. The groups' concerns over the expansion of surveillance methods extends also to the potential increased reliance on drone surveillance and the possibility of biometric screening at the border and the collection of immigrants’ DNA.
The groups oppose such measures, which they say would exacerbate racial inequities in policing and immigration enforcement, lead to privacy violations and data misuse, and curb people’s willingness to exercise their First Amendment rights.
“When we talk about expanding a surveillance wall with the intent to target immigrants and foreigners, that’s bad not just because immigrants and foreign visitors have human rights, but it’s also a problem because these surveillance technologies will be and already have been deployed against Americans, too,” said Adam Schwartz, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The prospect of the U.S. government building a surveillance wall that vacuums up the private information of immigrants and travelers and U.S. citizens alike is a menace to privacy.”
On Tuesday night, in his State of the Union address, President Trump is expected to repeat his demand for Congress to back his hard-line immigration agenda, including the construction of a physical wall at the southern border.
Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency to override the standoff over border security and has called the ongoing negotiations a “waste of time” because Democrats have rejected plans that would include money for the wall.