Rush to hire border agents raises concerns about unqualified officers

President Donald Trump has called for the hiring of 5,000 more Border Patrol agents and 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, but some advocates worry that a rush to hire could lead to a loosening of standards, something agency officials insist will not happen. (Photo by Josh Denmark/Customs and Border Protection)

WASHINGTON – A Trump administration plan to hire thousands of border and immigration officers has advocates concerned about a possible repeat of the last hiring binge, which they said was followed by an increase in corruption and misconduct cases.

A report Tuesday by the American Immigration Council pointed to the hiring of 8,000 Border Patrol agents from fiscal 2006 to 2009, and what it called a corresponding surge in corruption cases and complaints against officers at the agency from 2007 to 2012.

“Now the Trump administration wants to repeat history by hiring thousands of additional Border Patrol agents, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, without introducing the reforms and safeguards needed to avoid the abuses and scandals of the past,” the report said.

President Donald Trump proposed hiring 5,000 border patrol agents and 10,000 ICE officers as part of his sweeping series of executive orders on immigration that included his plan for a border wall, among other proposals.

Customs and Border Protection insisted in a statement Tuesday that it will not lower hiring standards in order to hire the number of officers identified by the president. It also rejected the suggestion that border agents hired during the 2006-2009 surge were worse.

“These men and women are as effective and as trustworthy as any other agent, and some are now seasoned supervisors,” the statement said of those earlier hires. It added that only about 17 percent of agents arrested or indicted since 2004 for corruption-related activity had been hired during the surge.

But the report cited a survey of 1,095 Mexicans deported between 2009 and 2012. Of those, 11 percent reported being physically abused by U.S. authorities and 23 percent reported verbal abuse.

It also cited an American Civil Liberties Union study of Arizona’s two Border Patrol sectors, Tucson and Yuma, which found 81 complaints for unlawful searches and seizures in fiscal 2012 to 2013.

And Josiah Heyman, who wrote Tuesday’s report, said Border Patrol has a worse record overall than other agencies.

“This is not just a matter of a few bad apples,” Heyman said during a press call on the report’s release. “Arrests for corruption are significantly higher in CBP compared to other law enforcement agencies.”

Arizona advocates like Tucson resident Juanita Molina agreed that, in her experience, the agency’s previous hiring spree resulted in civil rights violations by Border Patrol agents against immigrants.

Molina, the executive director of the immigration-rights group Border Action Network, said Border Patrol applicants were being pushed through training academies during the last hiring surge, which led to unqualified agents in the field.

The agency said in a statement that it maintains “high standards for graduation” from its training academies, and that will remain unchanged as it streamlines its pre-employment process.

But Molina pointed to reports that one streamlining proposal under consideration is waiving the current mandatory polygraph tests of some applicants, such as military or others who have already been screened. Such a step would be lowering hiring standards, she said.

“It’s hard to understand why the agency wouldn’t want to do everything in its power to reach out and screen their people,” Molina said.

Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said that the agency’s hiring scores of applicants before led to “unchecked, unaccountable and unprofessional” agents operating in border areas.

That could happen again if the agencies hire more people without having systems to ensure those applicants qualify for the job, he said.

“Without having those mechanisms in place, any attempt to further militarize the border regions will lead to the deterioration of our quality of life,” Ramirez said.