When Alien Smugglers Go Free, Morale Suffers At Border Patrol

Stephen Losey, Federal Times (Springfield, Va.), June 7, 2006

Morale among Border Patrol agents in the San Diego area is suffering because most illegal-alien smugglers are released without being prosecuted, according to an internal agency memo.

The memo, which was apparently written in August and released to Federal Times May 19 by the office of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that only violent smugglers or those transporting a dozen or more illegal aliens are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of California.

The memo examines prosecutions of alleged smugglers caught by agents stationed at El Cajon, a small city east of San Diego, in fiscal 2003 and 2004. Border Patrol agents there caught more smugglers in fiscal 2004, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting fewer smugglers overall.

“It is very difficult to keep agents’ morale up when the laws they were told to uphold are being watered down or not prosecuted,” the memo said. “Until this issue is resolved, more and more people (even minors) will get involved with aliens smuggling.”

Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said the concerns raised in the memo are startling, but not surprising. He said Issa is trying to find out whether other U.S. Attorney offices are having similar problems prosecuting human smugglers, but the Justice Department is “stonewalling” and not providing information. U.S. Attorneys appear to not have enough resources to prosecute all apprehended smugglers, Hill said, but Justice is also not saying what those offices need.

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The National Border Patrol Council said the concerns raised in the memo are genuine. Border Patrol agents are becoming discouraged, said Chris Bauder, president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613 in San Diego.

“They feel they’re wasting their time,” Bauder said. “They’re risking their lives on the border and they see the same people show up at stations.”

And the Border Patrol has tightened the reins on agents, Bauder said, further limiting their effectiveness and depressing morale. Rather than allow agents to visit day-labor sites and other places where illegal immigrants gather to question and arrest them, the Border Patrol has limited them to certain areas, such as patrolling the border and internal checkpoints.

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The memo detailed a suspected smuggler’s four encounters with El Cajon agents since 1999. The first three times, the suspected smuggler was caught with between two and seven illegal aliens, and was returned to Mexico after the Justice Department did not prosecute him. The fourth time, he allegedly was driving an overloaded vehicle when a tire blew, causing it to roll over and kill two illegal aliens he was smuggling. The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted the alleged smuggler after his fourth smuggling arrest, the memo said.

“Is this what it takes to get smugglers prosecuted—death?” the memo asked.

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