Border patrol may ease lie-detector rule
Agency’s acting chief says test has hurt hiring efforts.
Seeking to comply with President Donald Trump’s order that it hire 5,000 new Border Patrol agents, U.S. Customs and Border Protection would exempt many job candidates who are veterans or law enforcement officers from a requirement that they take a lie-detector test, according to a memo released by the agents’ union.
The memo by Kevin McAleenan, acting Cus- toms and Border Protec- tion commissioner, calls the polygraph tests a “signifi- cant deterrent and point of failure” for applicants and a disadvantage as the Border Patrol competes against Immigration and Customs Enforcement to recruit employees. ICE, a separate agency that is responsible for deporting immigrants and is under orders from Trump to hire 10,000 people, does not require lie detector tests.
About two-thirds of job applicants fail the Customs and Border Protection polygraph tests, more than double the average rate for law enforcement agencies that provided data under open-records requests. Those failures are a major reason why the Border Patrol recently fell below 20,000 agents for the first time since 2009. Many applicants have complained about being subjected to unusually long and hostile interrogations.
Any waiver of the lie-detector mandate may require congressional approval due to a 2010 law that introduced the requirement as part of an effort to root out corruption and misconduct after an earlier hiring surge doubled the size of the Border Patrol in eight years. McAleenan’s memo is addressed to the Homeland Security Depart- ment deputy secretary for approval, suggesting that the Trump administration may not yet back the plan.
CBP officials did not imme- diately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. Homeland Security Secre- tary John Kelly, who oversees both CBP and ICE, told reporters Tuesday in Dallas that he still thinks the polygraph is “a good idea,” while acknowledging that it has hindered hiring.
The National Border Patrol Council, which represents Border Patrol agents, received the memo Tuesday and has been working closely with the agency on hiring plans, said Shawn Moran, a union vice president. He called the changes to the polygraph requirement “a more commonsense approach” and said current failure rates are “ridiculous.”
“Obviously we want to get the best candidates. We want to make sure that we have stringent background checks, but when it comes to the polygraph, that thing, I think, has been far too excessive in weeding out potentially good candidates,” Moran said.
A former official who played a key role introducing the polygraph tests said Wednesday the hiring plan was “a roadmap to further compromise the current and future integrity of CBP.” James Tomsheck, who was the agency’s internal affairs chief from 2006 to 2014, said McAleenan “is attempting to degrade the vetting” to accommodate a political mandate. “Ultimately this data-deprived decision will greatly reduce security at our borders,” Tomsheck wrote in an email.