LESSONS NOT LEARNED FROM PAST EXPERIENCE
THE CBP IS ABOUT TO HIRE MORE UNQUALIFIED AND CRIMINAL OFFICERS
After 9-11, the Bush Administration called for a massive increase in hiring Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers in order to beef up security at our borders, airports and other ports of entry. Some 17,000 new agents were hired over a period of six years as a result. But this ramping up of CBP personnel didn’t work out that well. New employees were not vetted properly, background checks were skipped, and it led to a flood of corruption and excessive use of force legal actions against many agents. It was discovered that drug lords had encouraged their minions to apply for jobs with the agency and you can guess the reasons why. Our largest police force, CBP now numbers 27,000, has been pegged as one of the most troubled and most corrupt agencies in America.
Back in 2010, the Customs and Border Protection Agency, part of the massive Federal Department of Homeland Security, was chastised by Congress and new background check requirements and polygraphs were instituted as a result. With Trump’s emphasis on deporting illegal aliens and stopping the illegal entry of folks into the United States, the Trump Administration has proposed another increase of 5,000 Border Patrol agents and an additional 10,000 new Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to meet this challenge. But if past experience is any indication, it may not go all that well.
Bribing of border agents is common. In 2016, 15 CBP agents were charged, indicted and sentenced to prison on bribery charges. In February, Johnny Acosta, a Customs and Border Protection officer in Douglas, Ariz., was sentenced to eight years in prison for bribery and drug smuggling. Mr. Acosta, who was arrested as he tried to flee to Mexico, took more than $70,000 in bribes and helped smuggle over a ton of marijuana into the United States. In November, Eduardo Bazan, a Border Patrol agent in McAllen, Tex., was arrested and accused of helping a drug trafficking organization smuggle cocaine. According to court records, Mr. Bazan admitted to receiving $8,000 for his help. José Cruz-López, a Transportation Security Administration screener at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, P.R., was arrested around the same time and accused of taking $215,000 in bribes to help smuggle drugs. Mr. Herrera-Chiang, who was assigned to a special undercover unit targeting the cartels in Yuma, Ariz., provided maps of hidden underground sensors, lock combinations to gates along the United States-Mexico border and the locations of Border Patrol traffic checkpoints to an individual who provided them to the cartels. The cartels used the information to bypass Border Patrol agents and transport methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana into the country, according to court records.
Now it makes sense with lax hiring procedures, you’re not going to weed out corrupt individuals and the agency would be a magnet for individuals who see a golden opportunity to work with the drug cartels and make a good living from their misdeeds. There have been a raft of articles about corruption in CBP and ICE which is why Congress took action in 2012 to address this problem. But Acting Commissioner McAleenan wants to go back to superficial background checks and eliminate polygraphs that, he says, are “insanely cumbersome.” James Tomsheck, who headed up the CBP during the Obama Administration, thinks that this is nonsense. “Calling out the polygraph exams is nothing more than a thinly veiled effort to discredit the polygraph program to achieve hiring mandates that are unrealistic and certain to compromise the future integrity of the CBP,” he says. Back in 2012, when he reviewed 1,000 randomly selected polygraph exams who had cleared a background investigation, more than half failed. The majority gave detailed admissions about why. Some were involved in smuggling and others had committed felony crimes. But the most hair-raising finding of all, Tomsheck states, is that some were infiltrators – people who worked for criminal organizations and were told to seek employment at CBP.
The agency will have to hire more than 2,700 new Border Patrol agents each year for the next five years. Last year it hired a grand total of 485. CBP competes with ICE for new hires and this agency offers better pay and more desirable locations than does the Border Patrol. On the other hand, as a CBP employee, you are less likely to be called up on charges: between 2009 and 2012 of the 809 complaints of abuse by Border Patrol agents, no action was taken in 97% of the cases.
Acting CBP Commissioner, Kevin McAleenan, has asked to ease his agency’s hiring requirements including background checks and polygraphs. With a mandate to hire an additional 15,000 agents as soon as possible, relaxing hiring standards would appear to make sense. However, the last time this was the order of the day after 9-11, it was a disaster. Why Trump and Homeland Security would go down this road again, knowing what happened before, is really not all that mystifying. What it comes down to is a very typical Trump action: instituting a policy action that pleases his base and superficially keeps one of his campaign promises, but in reality is ineffective and inefficient. And don’t forget, for the first time in its history, the Border Patrol union endorsed a Presidential candidate: Donald J. Trump.
But, hey, sounds good right? It’s just too bad that “lessons learned” in this case have utterly failed to take hold.