The media images of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas being beaten on March 30, 2010, by a group of CBP agents are very, very disturbing. As I suggested previously, at the very least I certainly hope that the Internal Affair’s unit of Customs and Border Protection is investigating this event which took place at the border wall in San Diego. At the same time the Department of Justice should open up an investigation and Congress should begin to collect findings prior to holding public hearings.
The individuals involved in the death of Anastasio Herandez-Rojas, however, deserve the full assumption of innocence under our laws until all the evidence has been accumulated. At the same time, however, this tragedy shines a very bright light on several shadowy areas which investigators must be willing to examine. Two areas among many which should be considered in an examination of this tragedy are the professional recruitment training that CBP agents currently receive and the nature of the work that these same agents must perform on a daily basis.
CBP agents, as a result of a Congressional mandate to increase the size of the Border Patrol, no longer benefit from the academy training they once received. This training provided agents expertise in the Spanish language, physical fitness and weapons, and immigration law; this rigorous training and testing-not without flaws- lasted almost six months. At the end of this training agents were then posted to their first assignments where they were put initially placed on probationary status for more than one year until they passed further testing and proved themselves on the line.
All that has changed since 2006. Now agents, who qualify for the CBP academy with only a high school degree, can get less than 56 days of training at the academy before they are assigned to a “mentor” at their first posting. Their formal learning after the academy relies heavily on the abilities of this “mentor” to teach additional necessary skills and abilities to the academy newbies with less than 8 weeks of law enforcement training.
The standards for new agents have been blatantly lowered at the academy to provide higher graduation rates. Only a small percentage of agents were ever given psychological tests to measure their competency and readiness to face the stressful work of patrolling the line. The Border Patrol, in short, grew from about 3,500 agents before 9/11 to more than 24,400; the first victim of this rapid growth was their professional recruitment and training.
Working the borderline is a very tough, stressful, and dangerous job. The border is becoming more and more violent to those whose job it is to patrol it 24 hours a day. Statistics measuring violence directed towards agents have risen dramatically in recent years. The work of agent can place the men and women who have passed through the academy in dangerous, high risk situations.
We all must wait and see what the investigations of the beating and death of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas uncover. But at the very least, this tragedy calls for a close evaluation of the professional recruitment and training of our agents and, at the same time, an appreciation for the difficult and dangerous work in which they are engaged. Anything less is a cover-up.
Patrolling Chaos, Robert Lee Maril, Texas Tech University Press, 2006.
The Fence, Robert Lee Maril, Texas Tech University Press, 2011.