Legislation Shaped by Maril
By Erica Plouffe Lazure
An East Carolina University sociologist’s research on the U.S. Border Patrol has helped to craft a bill that would increase surveillance equipment and manpower across the U.S. border with Mexico.
Lee Maril, chair of the Sociology Department at ECU, wrote Patrolling Chaos: The U.S. Border Patrol in Deep South Texas, published by Texas Tech University Press in 2004. The book, based upon first-hand observation in the field, provides the first unbiased account of life along the Rio Grande and the people who patrol it. Maril’s findings about the conditions of the federal patrol officials contributed to a bill that was introduced Oct. 7 by U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) and Sylvestre Reyes (D-El Paso).
Maril said the legislation would improve the security of the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the treatment of both patrol agents and undocumented workers.
“Our borders are, at this point, wide open,” Maril said. “This legislation will provide a more human working environment for agents by making them safer and better at what they do. At the same time, it will through various provisions provide for the more humane treatment of undocumented workers.”
The bill, called the Rapid Response Border Protection Act, proposes 2,500 to 3,500 new agents to be hired annually during the next five years. It also would equip the Border Patrol with modern equipment and surveillance tools, such as helicopter and powerboat fleets, radio systems, computers and infrared equipment. Changes that would improve morale, training and governance of the Border Patrol were also included in the legislation. Another provision in the legislation would allow governors to declare an “international border security emergency,” which would authorize the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to shift 1,000 agents to an affected state.
Upon completion of his research, Maril shared his findings with the staff of Congresswoman Jackson Lee and, drawing from the findings in the last chapter of his book, he was asked to help craft legislation that would improve conditions and surveillance along the border.
Action has yet to be taken on the bill.
Maril said he was pleased that he was able to work with the staffers to craft legislation and he hopes that it will improve the lives of those who live and work along the border.
“I hoped, at best, to be able to advocate for certain specific improvements in the border patrol and in border security, but I never really thought about the possibility of my research serving as the core source of data and information for legislation aimed at improving the Border Patrol,” Maril said.