EDITORIAL: Border Patrol’s detaining of DACA participants at checkpoint is wrong

Whatever one’s opinion is about the state of our country’s immigration policies, there should be little argument that the U.S. Border Patrol, along with its parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, play an essential function in protecting our safety.

Almost daily, particularly during the summer months, the Border Patrol releases information about the capture of felons; the seizure of illicit drugs; and even the rescue of undocumented immigrants who routinely and willingly endanger themselves to get into our country, often via South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector.

That is why we are both baffled and stunned by the latest course of action by Border Patrol that suggests that those enrolled in a deferred program — officially called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA— also will now be detained until their enrollment is verified.

“When a DACA recipient presents themselves for immigration inspection, they will temporarily be detained for accuracy and verification of status,” Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Robert Rodriguez wrote in a statement on Monday. “Once substantiated, the DACA recipient will be processed and released accordingly.”

It’s the latest salvo from President Donald Trump’s Administration aimed at a get-tough policy on those who have immigrated into our country illegally.

While we may not always agree with Trump’s approach — the border wall comes immediately to mind — we acknowledge the administration’s right to step up immigration enforcement.

But news broke Monday by The Monitor that a group of nine people who have been granted permission to be in our country through the DACA program was detained, most of the day at the Border Patrol checkpoint near Falfurrias until their status could be verified, was genuinely disturbing.

Last week, the Trump Administration announced that it was going to phase out the DACA program over the next six months to give Congress a chance to pass legislation that clarifies the status of more than 800,000 young adults who participate in this program.

As The Monitor attempted to understand why these so-called DREAMers were being detained near Falfurrias, we learned that Border Patrol was enforcing a new and unannounced policy relative to DREAMers.

We understand that DACA does not confer legal status to DREAMers who qualified for this program, in part, because they proved they were brought into this country when they were younger than age 16 and did not have any ability to consent to any illegal entry into our country. They were simply doing what their parents had them do.

But when President Barack Obama established DACA in 2012, it relied on a promise that those who qualified for DACA would not be deported and would be given permission to legally work if they essentially turned themselves into immigration authorities and followed certain rules, such as staying in school and/or serving in the U.S. military and staying out of trouble.

While the Trump Administration has proved repeatedly that it is not bound by any executive order issued by Obama, to now use against DREAMers any information provided by them on their DACA applications in good faith would be morally wrong.

It is on that same moral plane that we strongly object to any new Border Patrol policy that requires its agents to routinely detain DACA participants at checkpoints until their status is verified.

Our objections only intensify when, as Monday’s actions proved, such detentions could stretch into unreasonable lengths of time, in this case as much as eight hours.

We found laughable the reason Border Patrol gave to a Valley congressional office that the detention took so long because of a slow Internet connection inhibiting agents’ ability to look up the DACA records.

Such actions hint at outright harassment of DACA participants even though the Trump Administration has said it would honor the deferments as long as the two-year authorization under DACA is in effect.

While the Trump Administration, announced its intentions last week to initiate an orderly phasing out of DACA, the actions by Border Patrol on Monday suggest otherwise.

The freedom of domestic travel that DACA had guaranteed will now disappear under the new Border Patrol policy and it will be border communities, like ours, that will unfairly bear the burden of such a policy because DACA participants living inland do not routinely come in contact with Border Patrol agents or checkpoints.

We call on the U.S. Border Patrol to suspend immediately this poorly crafted policy that is overly harsh to these youth.