Following a storm of controversy over arrests by federal agents in Portland, Ore., New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Washington, D.C., Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton will be introducing legislation this week that would require federal law enforcement officials to clearly identify themselves, according to a draft bill provided exclusively to The Nation.
The bill would require on-duty federal agents to display not just the name of their agency but also the individual agent’s last name and identification number. It would also mandate a new form of oversight for the Justice Department, requiring its inspector general to conduct routine audits to ensure compliance with the legislation. The results of these audits would then be reported to Congress.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) drew scrutiny after federal agents in military fatigues used unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters in Portland. Among these federal agents were members of elite Border Patrol Tactical Units (BORTAC), Custom and Border Protection’s SWAT team equivalent. Despite the mayor of Portland’s demand that federal agents leave the city, DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf refused.
“I offered DHS support to help them locally address the situation that’s going on in Portland, and their only response was: please pack up and go home,” he said to Fox News. “That’s just not going to happen on my watch.”
Internal CBP documents obtained by The Nation revealed that these federal agents would be operating indefinitely and in undisclosed locations, with drones “on standby to assist as needed.” The documents describe the DHS’s creation of the Protecting American Communities Task Force in response to President Trump’s executive order “Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Activity.”
While this incident was clearly a catalyst for public concern, a spokesperson for Representative Ocasio-Cortez said that her office had been working on this legislation for months.
Provided a copy of the draft legislation, Irvin McCullough, deputy director of legislation at the Government Accountability Project, said, “Lots of lawyers are asking the same thing: Where’s the transparency? Unidentified internal security forces are apprehending American citizens, and accounts allege these apprehension processes are more similar to overseas renditions than traditional arrests. Citizens deserve to know who’s arresting them—or at least what entity—to report any abuses they suffer or witness.”
Department of Homeland Security subdivisions have sought increasing secrecy in recent months. Earlier this year, The Nation reported that both Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) quietly acquired a special designation that would allow them to withhold employees’ names from public disclosure. This designation, which applies to all ICE and CBP employees and field agents, shields from disclosure not just their names but also job titles and salary information—typically publicly available for government employees.
While McCullough acknowledged some concerns about the need for certain narrow exceptions for necessary undercover operations, he praised the legislation as “a step forward to secure transparency and seek accountability.”