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The US Customs and Border Protection, part of Homeland Security, has been a source of crime and corruption for years. New hires and contractors are not properly screened for employment, and now that President Donald Trump has requested an additional 5,000 border officers, tripling the size of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, our borders will be at greater risk than ever. Instead of Congress taking steps to improve screening for new hires, they are taking steps in the opposite direction. How has this happened?
In 2010, Andrew Becker reported on a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on corruption of federal law enforcement officers:
James Tomsheck, the assistant commissioner for internal affairs at Customs and Border Protection, testified that drug-trafficking organizations have infiltrated the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency. ‘There is a concerted effort on the part of transnational criminal organizations to infiltrate through hiring initiatives and to compromise our existing agents and officers,’ he said. Tomsheck also said when he took over the internal affairs office in 2006, ‘. . . the vast majority of corrupted employees had worked with the agency for 10 years or more, but now an increasing number of younger agents and officers have become corrupted.’
Due to funding shortfalls, polygraphs (a key screening tool) were limited to 10-15% of applicants, even though they would have preferred to test all potential hires. But even those who were tested, 60% were not suitable for hire.
Kevin Perkins, the assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division offered the case of customs inspector Margarita Crispin as an example of how valuable a corrupt official is to traffickers: “Agents suspect that Crispin joined CBP in 2003 with the intent of working with drug smugglers. She was sentenced in 2008 to 20 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $5 million in bribes she was paid to allow thousands of pounds of marijuana to be smuggled through her inspection lane in El Paso.”
But corruption in the Homeland Security Department isn’t limited to Border Patrol agents and customs inspectors. Agents and officers of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which both run immigration detention and is Homeland Security’s investigative arm, and employees of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that issues green cards and other immigration benefits, have also been corrupted.
Congress in 2010 made polygraphs mandatory for all prospective hires seeking law enforcement posts. The bureau then hired and trained scores of polygraph operators to meet the law’s mandate that all candidates take a polygraph by January 2013. Customs and Border Protection beat its deadline by a few months, reaching 100 percent of all applicants in October. It’s not yet clear whether the additional screening has been helpful in the hiring process.
In the meantime, according to the New York Times, other efforts have been made to curb corruption:
Homeland Security officials, acknowledging that internal corruption is a problem, have hired more internal affairs investigators, provided ethics training and started to administer polygraph tests to new applicants, along with counter-surveillance training to employees so they can recognize when they are being targeted by criminal organizations.
Customs and Border Protection, which has had dozens of its officers arrested and charged with bribery, said it had made additional changes to combat corruption. Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, in 2014 gave authority to the agency’s internal affairs office to conduct criminal investigations for the first time. And Mark Morgan, a former F.B.I. agent who had investigated corruption on the border, was put in charge of the Border Patrol.
But the Homeland Security report released in May said Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, currently lacks proactive programs to weed out corruption. Instead, the report said, the agency based its investigations on reporting from other employees, other government agencies or the public, by which time the corruption could have continued for decades.
Given the request by President Trump for 5,000 more agents, and the compromised reputation of the Customs and Border Protection agency, the senate has proposed another way to speed up screening, but which may also jeopardize the thoroughness of the process. Senator Jeff Flake proposed the “Boots on the Border Act of 2017.” The legislation allows waivers for former US law enforcement agents who have been previously screened with polygraph and background tests, and have worked in law enforcement for more than three years. It also provides waivers for those who have served in the armed forces who were honorably discharged and served for at least four years.
These actions on the part of President Trump and Customs and Border Protection raise many questions:
- Should the government consider a more gradual roll-out of meeting the goal of 5,000 new border agents?
- Should new or more stringent screening processes not only be put in place but tested for their efficacy?
- Do you have confidence in the waiver process for law enforcement and armed forces new hires?
- Are there ample funds for not only hiring and training new agents, but for hiring those who can determine whether screening and investigation programs are working to reduce corruption among agents?
There are many other questions that can be asked, but the bottom line is, should we be hiring new agents now, knowing the level of corruption that has existed and may still exist, and knowing the danger we will be in from a less-than-secure border?