Mixed Messages: Agents See Losing Battle, Backward Policies

SB Sun

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) shifting policies about border enforcement have patrol employees perpetually wondering which end is up, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents border agents.

Mixed messages from the White House, DHS officials and high-ranking personnel at Border Patrol field offices have trickled down to the personnel on the ground like bad vinegar, many agents say.

‘There was no direction in the aftermath of 9/11,’ Bonner said. ‘We expected to see a dramatic change, but it never really happened.’

‘Glorified security guards’

Border Patrol agents used to be able to operate anywhere inside the United States. For the most part, agents stuck close to the border, but they occasionally would assist in immigration raids elsewhere.

That changed in June 2004, when Border Patrol agents out of the Temecula station conducted ‘roving patrols’ from Ontario to northern San Diego County.

After detaining and questioning nearly 11,000 suspected illegal immigrants and deporting a few hundred of them back to their native countries, the department faced angry criticism from immigrant-rights groups.

DHS responded by outlining new operating procedures for border agents. In two memorandums sent in November 2004, agents were told to not patrol the interior of the United States unless assistance was requested by the Office of Investigations, under Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to the memo issued by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner to Chief David Aguilar of the Border Patrol, the Office of Investigations would be the sole primary responder to any immigration violations inside the United States. Border agents only can be involved if the investigation is within their normal patrol area.

‘The problem is the (Office of Investigations) only investigates what it has to, and ICE never answers any of our calls,’ said an Arizona border agent who spoke under condition of anonymity. ‘We were no longer able to patrol beyond 50 yards. We’ve become nothing more than glorified security guards.’

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