DHS Finally Investigates the Border Patrol or Does It?

The Associated Press reported last week that the Department of Homeland Security’s own Office of the Inspector General was investigating charges of excessive force by Border Patrol guards at the Mexican border.  According to the article that appeared in the Washington Post, the investigation “… involves a review of accusations of brutality and excessive force as it works to determine whether reforms have been implemented.”

Foremost among the cases presumably to be examined by DHS’ Inspector General is Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas who died at the border near San Diego.  A video recently emerged which depicts what looks like blatant brutality against Mr. Hernandez as he is repeated tasered while lying on the ground surrounded by Border Patrol agents.  And last week at the border in Nogales, Arizona, a Border Patrol agent shot a young boy, aged 16, who allegedly was throwing rocks.  There are, as well, a number of other cases since 2010 in which Border Patrol agents have used deadly force.

But what is not being investigated by DHS’ Office of the Inspector General is the risky and dangerous work of being a border guard, on the one hand, and the marked decline in professional training recruits receive at their national training academy in New Mexico.

So the good news is that fewer illegal immigrants are successfully entering our country as reflected in Border Patrol statistics.  The bad news is that violence against agents is increasing along with the number of illegal border-crossers who are dying at the hands of border agents.

There are at least two major reality checks ignored only at the peril of our agents on the line.  The first is that Border Patrol agents since their rapid recruitment to meet the numbers of new agents mandated by Congress have consistently received less and less professional academy training.  Standards have been lowered so that a higher percentage of agents successfully graduate.  Actual training at the national academy shrank from more than five months to slightly more than fifty days.  So the end result of adding an additional 21,000 agents, on top of those needed to replace a high annual turnover rate, is men and women who must make lightening quick decisions in dangerous situations.  These agents require more training, not less.  The on-the-job mentorship that many Border Patrol managers tout is unfortunately a poor remedy for months lost at the academy under the watchful eye of trained and experienced law enforcement professionals.

The second reality check that no one discusses is the implications and consequences of explosive organization growth: the Border Patrol has grown too fast and too furious.  The current culture among the majority of Border Patrol agents in this largest federal law enforcement agency in our country frequently validates and tacitly supports excessive force.  Indeed, this is the history of the Border Patrol as repeatedly documented since its inception in 1924.  While changing, Border Patrol institutional culture still allows with impunity for agents to harass, abuse, and harm those they have interdicted.

The Border Patrol badly needs reform to protect its agents and those they interdict, but not just on the limited issue of excessive force.

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