Union calls out bungling over Bor­der Pa­trol rules

Bound agents can’t meet Trump’s goals

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment has been re­luc­tant to send he­li­copters on night­time mis­sions to aid the Bor­der Pa­trol, leav­ing agents to face drug smug­glers and il­le­gal im­mi­grants with­out crit­i­cal air cover, the chief of the agents’ la­bor union told Congress late last month.

Bran­don Judd, an agent who is also pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Bor­der Pa­trol Coun­cil, said that un­less Pres­i­dent Trump can solve that kind of bu­reau­cratic bungling — and is will­ing to oust the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion fig­ures who botched the poli­cies — he will strug­gle to se­cure the bor­der.

The he­li­copters are one ex­am­ple of that, Mr. Judd said.

Mr. Judd said that when the Bor­der Pa­trol con­trolled its own he­li­copters, it got the air sup­port it needed. But after the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment was cre­ated more than a decade ago, the he­li­copters were turned over to the Of­fice of Air and Marine, which has been re­luc­tant to fly the night­time hours the agents need.

“Right now the Of­fice of Air and Marine, they fly very lit­tle at night,” he told the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee. “In fact, in [the Rio Grande Val­ley sec­tor], we had to use Coast Guard to fly sor­ties in cer­tain ar­eas. And when their ap­pre­hen­sions be­came so great, it’s my un­der­stand­ing the of­fi­cer at Air and Marine asked them not to fly any­more at night in RGV be­cause it was mak­ing them look bad.”

Of­fi­cials at U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, the agency that over­sees both the Bor­der Pa­trol and the Air and Marine di­vi­sion, de­clined to com­ment.

But Mr. Judd said it’s just one ex­am­ple of a bu­reau­cracy erect­ing hur­dles — what he called “king­dom-build­ing” — that he said could stymie Mr. Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion goals.

“We talk about se­cur­ing the bor­der, and the bor­der — we can ab­so­lutely se­cure it, but it can­not be se­cure if our op­er­a­tions are not sound,” Mr. Judd told The Washington Times.

“What’s very con­cern­ing to Bor­der Pa­trol agents is, to this point, we still have the same peo­ple who gave us all of the failed op­er­a­tions, who were the au­thors of the catch-and-re­lease pro­gram. They’re still in charge — even un­der this cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion,” the union chief said. “That’s head-scratch­ing, es­pe­cially since the pres­i­dent said we’re go­ing to drain the swamp.”

Mr. Trump’s early changes to en­force­ment pol­icy, free­ing agents to carry out the law en­force­ment du­ties they signed up for, has helped boost morale, said Mr. Judd and Chris Crane, the head of the union for the Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment Coun­cil.

But they said the agen­cies’ lead­er­ship needs at­ten­tion.

Mr. Crane said “a good ol’ boy net­work” per­vades ICE, which he said is too heavy on man­agers who get in the way of agents try­ing to en­force im­mi­gra­tion laws in the in­te­rior. He said agents are ea­ger to en­force laws against em­ploy­ers who hire il­le­gal im­mi­grants, but their hands are tied.

The com­plaints of bu­reau­cratic bungling struck home with both Democrats and Repub­li­cans on the home­land se­cu­rity com­mit­tee, who said they are ea­ger to find bi­par­ti­san ar­eas where they can help the agents get things go­ing.

One chal­lenge is the poly­graph test, which all Bor­der Pa­trol ap­pli­cants must pass. The agency’s 75 per­cent fail­ure rate is higher than that of any other law en­force­ment de­part­ment, but the top brass say they are com­mit­ted to it — even as they pre­pare to try to hire 5,000 more agents to com­ply with Mr. Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­ders.

Even po­lice of­fi­cers who have passed poly­graphs for their cur­rent jobs but who are look­ing to trans­fer can end up fail­ing, Mr. Judd said.

Both Democrats and Repub­li­cans said they are ea­ger to clean up the im­mi­gra­tion agen­cies within the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment and would like to find com­mon ground with the agents and of­fi­cers.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Mis­souri Demo­crat, said the pan­elists want to know the names of bu­reau­crats who are stand­ing in the way of smart en­force­ment — though she said the ICE and Bor­der Pa­trol unions, which en­dorsed Mr. Trump in the elec­tion cam­paign, may have a greater claim to the pres­i­dent’s ear.

Still, one Demo­crat, Sen. Ka­mala D. Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia, said she wor­ries that the agency is ex­pand­ing too quickly, with­out train­ing to pro­tect il­le­gal im­mi­grants from overzeal­ous en­force­ment. She wanted to make sure agents weren’t go­ing after lesser-pri­or­ity tar­gets.

“When troops on the ground have not been trained, it leads to dysfunction be­cause there is a lack of con­sis­tency and ac­count­abil­ity and di­rec­tion,” she told Mr. Crane, the chief of the union for ICE agents and of­fi­cers.

Mr. Crane told her she mis­un­der­stood how agents in the field car­ried out their pri­or­ity tar­get­ing.

Mr. Crane and Mr. Judd also said the gov­ern­ment needs to be care­ful about salaries. Be­cause ICE agents have higher pay and of­ten have bet­ter liv­ing options away from re­mote bor­der com­mu­ni­ties, Bor­der Pa­trol agents may rush to join the other force.

Part of the prob­lem is the com­pli­cated bu­reau­cratic web.

ICE and the Bor­der Pa­trol are sep­a­rate law en­force­ment di­vi­sions within Home­land Se­cu­rity.

That bu­reau­cratic mess also helps ex­plain the prob­lem with heli­copter pa­trols along the bor­der.

The Bor­der Pa­trol used to have its own he­li­copters, but after CBP was cre­ated as part of Home­land Se­cu­rity, the Air and Marine di­vi­sion was cre­ated as a sep­a­rate agency within CBP. Now, when agents want the as­sis­tance of eyes in the sky, they have to go out­side their own chain of com­mand.

Mr. Judd said the he­li­copters are a per­fect il­lus­tra­tion: Most il­le­gal cross­ings are at­tempted at night, and air sup­port is crit­i­cal for main­tain­ing vis­i­bil­ity.

Just as im­por­tant, when those at­tempt­ing to sneak in hear a heli­copter over­head, they are less likely to run — mak­ing the ap­pre­hen­sion eas­ier and less dan­ger­ous for agents.

Mr. Judd said the air di­vi­sion has ded­i­cated most of its re­sources to the Bor­der Pa­trol, but not at the right times, leav­ing the agents with­out night cover.

“We ex­pected to see a huge change in the way CBP op­er­ates. There’s been no change to this point,” he said.

CBP has long faced ques­tions about its use of air re­sources. The Home­land Se­cu­rity in­spec­tor gen­eral has been par­tic­u­larly with­er­ing in its eval­u­a­tion of the drone pro­gram, say­ing CBP has a tough time keep­ing its air­craft aloft and in sched­ul­ing mis­sions and can’t demon­strate the worth of the pro­gram.

CBP of­fi­cials have said the in­spec­tor gen­eral is us­ing sus­pect cal­cu­la­tions. Flights them­selves can be dan­ger­ous. In 2015, a heli­copter was called in to as­sist lo­cal po­lice who were try­ing to stop a drug smug­gling at­tempt near Laredo, Texas. As the heli­copter was mak­ing its sec­ond pass, it took fire from the Mex­i­can side — per­haps as many as 15 rounds, two of which struck the air­craft.

CBP of­fi­cials later said the man who fired on the heli­copter was a spe­cial­ized con­trac­tor whom the smug­glers used to pro­vide cover for their op­er­a­tions. Mex­i­can authorities caught the man.

But in hopes of send­ing a mes­sage to the car­tels, CBP sent to the re­gion sev­eral Black Hawk he­li­copters, which can be ar­mored to with­stand en­emy fire while con­tin­u­ing to fly.

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