There are many reasons you should read John Carlos Frey’s piece on border security in our latest issue, not least of which is that it’s a great piece of reporting. But I want to highlight one in particular, because it exposes the extent to which conservative demands about immigration reform have become divorced from reality.
You see, the Republican elite, reacting to their utter shellacking among Latinos in 2012, is attempting to get their base to choke down some kind of Latino-friendly policy in the shape of immigration reform (the prospect of which is looking increasingly dubious). Part of that effort is a big beefup of border security forces, to placate the paranoid base. Just recently, Marco Rubio, point man for the GOP on reform, said the Senate immigration bill currently under discussion needs more border security.
What doesn’t enter into the discussion is that there has already been a huge buildup of border security forces, so much so that to meet quotas the Border Patrol had to significantly relax their recruitment requirements. Frey writes:
In 2006, the Bush administration began rapidly increasing the size of the Border Patrol, ushering in a fanatic recruitment drive. Customs and Border Protection spent millions on slick television ads that ran during Dallas Cowboy football games and print ads that appeared in programs at the NBA All-Star Game and the NCAA playoffs. CBP even sponsored a NASCAR race car for the 2007 season.
In less than three years, the agency hired 8,000 new agents, making Customs and Border Protection one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States. Because qualified recruits were so hard to find, the Border Patrol had to lower its standards, deferring background checks and relaxing training regimens. Lie detector tests, which were previously common practice, were often omitted.
Richard Stana, head of Homeland Security and Justice at the Government Accountability Office, testified before Congress in 2007 that the “rapid addition of new agents” would “reduce the overall experience level of agents assigned to the southwest border”—and that Customs and Border Protection would be relying on “less seasoned agents” to supervise the new recruits. He spoke even more frankly in an interview on National Public Radio: “Any time we’ve had a ramp-up like this in the past, the propensity to get a bad apple or two goes way up. And if we don’t have supervisors to identify those bad apples, then they stay on board.”
A combination of a massive buildup in force with relaxed recruitment and training standards has had the predictable effect:
But following a rapid increase in the number of Border Patrol agents between 2006 and 2009, a disturbing pattern of excessive use of force has emerged. When I first began to notice this spate of cross-border shootings, I assumed that at least some victims were drug traffickers or human smugglers trying to elude capture. But background checks revealed that only one had a criminal record. As I began to dig more deeply, it turned out that most of the victims weren’t even migrants, but simply residents of Mexican border towns like Jose Antonio, who either did something that looked suspicious to an agent or were nearby when border agents fired at someone else.
In one case, agents killed a thirty-year-old father of four while he was collecting firewood along the banks of the Rio Grande. In another, a fifteen-year-old was shot while watching a Border Patrol agent apprehend a migrant. In yet another, agents shot a thirty-six-year-old man while he was having a picnic to celebrate his daughters’ birthdays.
Read the whole thing for all the gory details. Suffice to say that if we imagined the converse scenario, where uniformed officers of the Mexican state security apparatus were firing on and killing unarmed American civilians, it would be a rather larger story.