Memo Tells US Border Patrol to Let Drunk Drivers Go Free

By May Wilkerson 02/20/15

Conservatives and MADD jumped all over the department's memo to border agents.

Young drunk man with beer bottle chased by police.

A memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security seems to tell Border Patrol agents working at the US-Mexico border to release drunk drivers. The memo, which was leaked this week by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, explains that DUI arrests don’t fall under border agents’ jurisdiction, even though it seems “counter-intuitive” to let them go.

“There is no legal requirement for a Border Patrol agent to intervene in a state crime, including DUI,” said the memo, and “therefore there is generally no liability that will attach to the agent or agency for failing to act in this situation.”

The bulletin was issued to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents working along one of the busiest sections of the US-Mexico border in Tucson, Ariz. It explains that agents who encounter drunk drivers have three options: to detain drivers at the request of local law enforcement, detain them without the involvement of another agency, or to let them go. The memo warns that the agency faces the “greatest threat” of a lawsuit if they choose option one. Only by choosing option three and letting the driver go is the agency free from liability.

According to Fox News, the memo goes so far as to suggest that agents wouldn’t be liable if they allow a drunk driver “to continue down the road and they kill someone.”

Jessica Vaughan, a policy director for the Center for Immigration Studies, told Fox the guidelines are part of the White House’s strategy to prevent federal agents from sharing responsibilities with local and state law enforcement, especially in rural border communities. “The administration thinks Border Patrol agents have too much discretion, and it wants to draw a bright line between federal and other agents,” she said.

Conservative groups have been quick to criticize the memo, which they say will put lives in danger. “Families across America are now at risk on the roads, as President Obama and his appointees at the Department of Homeland Security have given illegal aliens a license to drive drunk,” said Tom Fitton, President of Judicial Watch.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has also responded to the memo, saying “MADD urges all law enforcement officers to protect the public by following standard procedures when encountering anyone suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Law enforcement is the first line of defense in preventing drunk and drugged driving, and their efforts are crucial to keep our roadways safe.”

Customs and Border Patrol released a statement explaining that the memo was not intended to urge agents in one direction or another, but simply to inform them of their legal options when encountering drunk drivers. “In cases where Border Patrol agents encounter possibly impaired drivers, they are trained to exercise their professional judgment when assessing the current situation,” said the statement.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.