New rules anger border agents
TEMPE, Ariz. — Rankand-file Border Patrol agents are furious that they have lost some of their favorite enforcement tools and say that intense public criticism of border shootings has led to a morale crisis.
“We lack the political will to enforce the law and allow our agency to be effective,” said National Border Patrol Council spokesman Shawn Moran in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. The call was coordinated by the council, the labor union that represents the agents.
Among the strongest and most far-reaching accusations from agents working entry points in Arizona, Texas and California was that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection administration in Washington does not want agents to make drug busts and has taken away their ability to do so.
Shane Gallagher, an agent in the San Diego sector, said roving interdiction patrols — in which agents would stop suspicious vehicles north of the border — were extraordinarily successful at catching border crossers with drugs. But those patrols would then create uncomfortable questions for the ports through which the vehicles had just passed, he said.
“Now the port of entry has to explain who was in the primary lane, what actions were taken, if the vehicle was inspected. So you can see there’s a whole host of implications,” he said.
Though rank-and-file agents saw the value in drug interdictions, Gallagher said, agency leadership did not and drastically reduced the number of agents doing such work.
The decision to speak with reporters comes as Border Patrol agents have come under intense criticism for their involvement in fatal cross-border shootings, including the 2012 slaying of a 16-year-old boy who was walking home from a basketball game in Nogales, Mexico, when he was hit by a bullet fired by an agent on the Arizona side of the bor- der.
According to records released last month, only 13 out of 809 abuse complaints sent to Customs and Border Protection’s office of internal affairs between January 2009 and January 2012 led to disciplinary action, and last week the agency named a new head of internal affairs.
On Thursday, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman said the agency would respond to the allegations, but it did not comment as of late Thursday.
The agency also handcuffed agents by instituting civil liberties protections for potential targets of investigations at public transit stations or on agricultural land, colloquially known as a “farm and ranch check,” Moran said.
For such checks, he said, agents are required to create an “operations plan” and be able to show supervisors some kind of intelligence that connects targets of investigations to potential criminal activity. No longer, he said, can Border Patrol agents simply question people at random.
Amid a flood of immigrant women and children turning themselves in at the border in the last year, agents also criticized administration directives to lend help to neighboring agencies.
The Border Patrol “grew but other agencies didn’t grow,” said Tucson sector Agent Art Del Cueto. “They’ve been butchering our agency to assist other agencies.”
BORDER PATROL agents say new federal regulations will impede their ability to do their job.