WASHINGTON – The funds needed to hire additional Customs and Border Patrol agents (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers could be better spent on investigators at CPB’s Office of Internal Affairs and more immigration judges to address the backlog of immigration cases, according to the professor who authored a new report for the American Immigration Council.
Josiah Heyman, Ph.D, endowed professor of Border Trade Issues at the University of Texas, El Paso, wrote the American Immigration Council’s report Why Caution is Needed Before Hiring Additional Border Patrol Agents and ICE Officers.
“We need to look at this with a thoughtful, critical eye, both because of the power of those agencies and because of their immense costs. We need to look at the conduct of the officers in those agencies and we need to look at whether or not these are useful and justified investments,” Heyman said on a conference call about the report last week. “The cost of the proposed expansion is dramatic.”
Heyman explained that the Trump administration’s FY2018 budget proposal included $314 million for 500 Border Patrol agents and 1,000 new ICE officers.
“The entire long-term plan for 5,000 Border Patrol agents and 10,000 ICE officers would increase DHS’ already large budget over $3.14 billion,” he said. “The question is, is this the most useful allocation of resources at the present moment? After all, we are in a period where the number of arrests has dropped really significantly at the U.S.-Mexico border, even with people coming from Central America.”
Heyman suggested that the money required for additional CBP agents could be spent on “internal investigations,” which he said are understaffed, as well as immigration judges.
“The Homeland Security Advisory Council recommended an internal affairs staff of 550 criminal investigators, a net increase of more than 350, doubling the existing number. We certainly should have internal investigators before we surge more officers. Immigration courts are backlogged,” he said. “In many cases there’s more than a two-year backlog in the immigration courts. The backlog means there’s neither fair nor effective and swift justice. There is a proposal in the budget to increase immigration judges by 75… that helps, but we really need to get to 524 judges to eliminate the backlog.”
Heyman said there is past data that elected officials should consider when debating the hiring of additional officers. Heyman repeated information reported by National Public Radio (NPR) last year stating that an internal CBP website, Trust Betrayed, showed 177 agents were arrested for misconduct related to “narcotics and human trafficking” from 2004 to 2015.
“It worked out to more than one agent arrested every month for 11 years,” Heyman said.
Citing the New York Times, Heyman said dozens of ICE agents have been arrested for abusing detainees for immigration-related offenses. Heyman added that some suggested using polygraph tests in response to some of the internal personnel issues at ICE.
“ICE still does not require polygraph tests. Polygraphs have been identified as a key bottleneck in hiring,” he said. “The polygraphs themselves are useful in revealing troubling backgrounds in CBP applications, including 10 applicants believed to have had links to organized crime.”
Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition and human rights director of Alliance San Diego, said the “militarization” of the U.S.-Mexico border has resulted in a lack of trust toward law enforcement within border communities.
“In a democratic society, we do not deploy the military into our communities nor should we deploy military-type language. We live in the 21st century and this administration cannot continue to propose 14th century ideas like building walls and sending troops to our communities,” Ramirez said.
“This is an opportunity for members of Congress to not go in the direction of throwing more money at an agency that is in urgent need of repairs, and those repairs must include accountability and oversight mechanisms to hold CBP accountable. Militarization has no place in a democracy,” he added.
Ramirez continued, “The notion that border communities need walls and more immigration officers is blatantly false, it’s unjustified and it’s detrimental to the civil rights of millions of people who live, work and travel through the border lands. We reject these misplaced priorities.”
Ramirez said the Trump administration’s rhetoric on illegal immigration has made some members of border communities afraid to legally cross the U.S.-Mexico border to shop or visit family.
“A lot folks are questioning whether it’s safe to do those kinds of things… that uncertainly has created a sense of uneasiness for border communities, and a lot of shops on the U.S. side of the border that depend on folks on the Mexican side to come and buy goods are feeling the pinch,” he said. “There is a sense that a lot of folks who have approached the ports of entry seeking asylum are deciding to stay on the Mexican side of the border – that may be a result of the rhetoric the Trump administration has been using.”