Border wall

Trump Wants More Money for Corrupt Border Patrol

Congress should tell him to take a hike.


President Donald Trump doesn't just want to build a wall along the southern border, he also wants Congress to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol

Border Patrol Car
fdenardo1 on

agents—a 25% increase—to patrol it. However, Border Patrol suffers from worse discipline, performance, and corruption problems than any other federal law enforcement agency, my study for the Cato Institute found.

Congress should fix those problems before even considering any new request for more agents.

Stories of Border Patrol misconduct and corruption have dribbled into the press for years. They range from ordinary corruption to brutal crimes. On the ordinary side, Border Patrol agents Raul and Fidel Villarreal were convicted of smuggling in around 1,000 illegal immigrants in exchange for $1 million. On the brutal side, Border Patrol agent Esteban Manzanares kidnapped, assaulted, and raped three illegal immigrant women he apprehended while on the job in 2014.

There are many other cases just like those, but the full extent of the problem is very unclear. Are these just a few bad apples? Or is it "conservative to estimate" that 5 percent of the Border Patrol force, adding up to about 1,000 agents, is corrupt, as James Tomsheck said after he was removed as head of one of the internal affairs departments that oversaw Border Patrol in 2014.

Government reports offer confusing, contradictory, and incomplete answers. According to evidence released under the Freedom of Information Act, 158 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees were convicted or charged with corruption from 2005 to 2016. The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found 358 corruption or misconduct convictions, but it doesn't distinguish between government employees and civilians who conspired with them. CBP further complicates this mess by distinguishing between "mission-compromising" convictions, which include drug and immigrant smuggling, and "non-mission-compromising" ones, which include sexually assaulting detainees and murder.

Not only are records of corruption and misconduct poorly reported but the government can't even agree on the definition of what constitutes a complaint. CBP even shifted the definition and reporting system for "complaints" in a way that reduced the number of those filed against Border Patrol officers. That's why Government Accountability Office (GAO) watchdogs recorded thousands more complaints made against sub-components of CBP than CBP itself records against the entire agency, which just strains credulity.

A new Cato Institute study analyzed Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data on the number of terminations for disciplinary and performance reasons by agency and occupation – data that includes (but is not limited to) those fired for corruption. This data is more reliable because the agency actually records the reasons for why an agent left or was fired, something neither the CBP nor Border Patrol does.

From 2006 through 2016, Border Patrol agents had the highest termination rate of any large federal law enforcement agency. On the whole, they were 2.2 times as likely to be terminated for discipline or performance as federal law enforcement officers in general and 49 percent more likely than Customs officers, 54 percent more likely than guards at the Bureau of Prisons, six times as likely as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, 7.1 times as likely as Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and 12.9 times as likely as Secret Service agents.

Two explanations are generally offered for Border Patrol's relatively high termination rate.

One, that its internal affairs department is just better at providing effective oversight and firing troublemakers. But this is laughable given that the oversight at Border Patrol deteriorated precipitously after 9/11.

Congress disbanded the old Immigration and Naturalization Service that housed Border Patrol after it approved student visas for two 9/11 hijackers about six months after they flew jet liners into the World Trade Center. Congress then created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that housed another agency called Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and made Border Patrol part of it. However, Congress transferred Border Patrol's old internal affairs division elsewhere and neglected to create another one. CBP cobbled together an internal affairs division but it did not have the authority to investigate criminal misconduct in Border Patrol until August 2014. Outside agencies tried to fill the gap before then.

Two, the termination rate is simply a reflection of the agency's expansion. This doesn't hold much water either.

The number of Border Patrol agents doubled from 2002 to 2010 but the number of Customs agents barely expanded. However, the termination rate for both Border Patrol agents and Customs agents shot up at the same time. Thus, the hiring of new Border Patrol agents can't explain the termination surge. Incidentally, most of the corruption charges against Border Patrol agents are for smuggling illegal immigrants or drugs into the United States.

The government should at least get a grip on these issues before handing Border Patrol more taxpayer dollars to hire more agents.

And a good place to start would be by implementing the Homeland Security Advisory Council's (HSAC) recommendations. This would mean boosting agent accountability by improving internal affairs, especially by bringing the number of internal affairs officers up to 729. This would increase the ratio of internal affairs officers at Border Patrol to the same level as that of the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Many of the other reforms recommended by the Council—like better training and recording stops—likewise mirror those suggested for police departments across the country.

Furthermore, the Government Accountability Office should annually audit Border Patrol internal affairs through undercover investigations to catch agents breaking the law or otherwise misbehaving. Civil service protections should only extend to Border Patrol agents after two full years on the job rather than after one year, making it easy to fire troublesome agents before they become serious problems.

Most importantly, civilians should also have greater oversight just as they do for some police departments. Border Patrol agents after all operate in local communities, so it's only right that these communities should be able to form complaint review boards to oversee agent conduct—just like the committee New York City has for the NYPD. Related to this, all Border Patrol agent labor contracts should be public and scrutinized for provisions that inhibit prevention, detection, and punishment of corruption and misconduct.

Also, in the interest of transparency, the government should annually publish all corruption and misconduct information for every federal agency so that Border Patrol's track record can be compared with others, which is extremely difficult right now.

Congress should not authorize any additional hires until Border Patrol gets a grip and improves its personnel record to at least the level of other federal law enforcement agencies, which is hardly a high bar. Pumping more money and resources into a corrupt and low-performing agency will only reward failure and breed more problems without "securing the border."

Alex Nowrasteh is an immigration policy analyst at The Cato Institute

NEXT: Brickbat: No Mercy in Malibu

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  1. Alex, you are going to discuss border patrol issues and then show a picture of South American military guys riding M-113’s and loaded with military equipment from 35 years ago?

    1. That’s actually a U.S. soldier in Vietnam.

      1. Are you sure?

        Plus, if it is of Vietnam wouldn’t that make it a worse use of that picture?

          1. llrighty. Looks like some Quang Tri province action.

            I guess a picture near the Vietnam DMZ is perfectly fitting for the US border, after all.

            1. It’s the same thing, man. Don’t you get it? We need to pull out all our troops oit of the Gadsden Purchase!!


              1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

                This is what I do…

            2. I took a picture of a client at the Laredo border. Six armed thugs immediately surrounded us and tried to confiscate my camera because one of those cop cars was in the background–a clear and present danger to National Security by their dim lights.

          2. Either way, the pic is out of place and is propaganda.

  2. I interpreted this article differently: the BP is the only federal agency which actually is holding its agents accountable. I highly doubt Reason would argue that the DEA is doing a good job because it rarely fires agents.

    Then again this is Reason, where specious, hysterical arguments chock full of strawmen are the norm when it comes to illegal immigration and border security.

    1. From my link above:

      Indeed, CBP’s problems were becoming so bad they couldn’t entirely be ignored. In Obama’s first year, CBP and DHS leadership even ordered the agency to change its definition of “corruption” to downplay the number of total incidents. Instead, according to internal affairs official Wong, the agency began to differentiate between “mission-compromising corruption”?bribery, narcotics-smuggling or human-smuggling allegations?and “non-mission-compromising corruption,” a “lesser” category of cases that included things like employees’ sexually assaulting detainees or workplace theft. Only the “mission-compromising” problems, the agency now decreed, would be reported to Congress. (Even rape and attempted murder like that of Manzanares, in other words, wouldn’t have to be disclosed.) The distinction helped them wipe nearly a third of the corruption cases out of statistics.

    2. As use-of-force questions began to surface in 2010 and 2011, Congress pressured the agency to review its procedures, resulting in the Border Patrol asking the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington law enforcement think tank, to study its policies. PERF’s secret internal report? made public a year later by the Los Angeles Times?examined 67 recent instances of the Border Patrol’s use of deadly force. Its conclusion was unambiguous: “Too many cases do not appear to meet the test of objective reasonableness with regard to the use of deadly force.” It determined that agents were actively stepping into the path of oncoming vehicles, “creating justification for the use of deadly force.” PERF said the Border Patrol’s use-of-force policies were far outside the mainstream of U.S. law enforcement. “It is clear that agents are unnecessarily putting themselves in positions that expose them to higher risk,” the report stated.

      CBP fought releasing the report, which was issued in 2013, for a year, refusing even to provide Congress with more than a summary. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher said at the time that the agency would not change its rules of engagement as the PERF report recommended.

    3. But there don’t appear to be any consequences for agents who violate the use-of-force policy. Since the hiring surge started, the Border Patrol has never publicly disclosed disciplining an agent involved in a shooting.

      In recent years, only a single agent has faced a criminal trial for a shooting incident. But that case, in 2008, was dismissed after a mistrial, and the agent kept his job with the Border Patrol. The U.S. government paid $850,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the dead man’s family?one of multiple lawsuits against the government over border patrol shootings in which it has refused to admit wrongdoing.

      “Not a single Border Patrol agent for the last eight years has been disciplined for excessive use of force. With a workforce that large, that’s amazing,” Wong says. “You go pull the stats on any medium-size municipal police force, pull the stats on the NYPD. At any given time, they’ll have all sorts of excessive force investigations.”

      1. I am familiar with how this internet thingy and those funny links work; you don’t need to cut and paste the entire article.

        But let me emphasize my point: If you believe the BP is uniquely corrupt because it fires a lot of agents, then it logically follows that the DEA is much less corrupt because it rarely fires any agents.

        No one would make that argument with a straight face; no one, that is, except persons or groups trying to undermine US border security and prevent the construction of a wall.

        1. “”If you believe the BP is uniquely corrupt because it fires a lot of agents, then it logically follows that the DEA is much less corrupt because it rarely fires any agents.””

          This. Agencies that *don’t* ever fire anyone tend to be the most corrupt and least able to deliver on their mandate. Think, “city teachers

          *yes, i know reason has a better version of that chart.

          1. Ya, that chart is bogus. Is it .71%, 71%, 7.1%? Is equivalent to 35.5, 3550, 355. The source is OPM, where Cato and Alex retrieved the information for their reports. More time wasted on another Reason article.

  3. Hiring more people does not necessarily mean it will become more or less corrupt and sometimes the corruption may be due to overwork which can led to high turnover rates, more employees may resolve that issue.

    I’m all for eliminating corruption,. which you will find in every agency but we do need border control.

  4. When Herbert Hoover’s duties included enforcing laws making light beer a felony, the border patrol promptly murdered Henry Virkula and the coast guard attacked the I’m Alone in the center of the Gulf of Mexico, killing a crewman. Another officious public servant shot and killed a Canadian citizen who was standing on Canadian soil. I doubt there is much danger of an attack from Canada, and if the USA were to quit exporting prohibitionism into Mexico, unemployed Americans could soon find work down there at good wages, I’d wager.

  5. I was in the BP for five years in the early 80’s before leaving for 20+ more years in various interior enforcement positions with INS & subsequently ICE. So my personal perspective is a bit dated … but I never felt we had a big problem with corrupt agents. What we did have was a very high washout rate at the academy and also post-academy during the first probationary year for performance reasons. One of the highest washout rates of any Federal LE agency at that time. Some people were just not cut out for the job & they would be let go if they were not up to it. Standards were pretty high for retention … and that is as it should be. I’m not saying there’s never any Agents that go bad, but I can’t help but wonder if the termination numbers cited in this article are in-part reflective of a high academy & probationary period performance related terminations?

  6. Perhaps he (PDJT) should instead funnel those funds to a non-corrupt Federal agency such as the FBI?

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