Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2016
In March, the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents agents, had endorsed Donald Trump for president. One teenage boy, a high school student from Oakland, asked a pair of agents why.
“He asked how can Border Patrol agents be supporting hateful rhetoric that seems to contradict the spirit of the . . . event,” said Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee, who led the field trip of youngsters to the border and witnessed the exchange.
It’s a line of questioning that agents are hearing more often these days. And though the agents that April day didn’t respond to the youngster’s query, the rank-and-file seem as polarized about Trump as the rest of the nation, with some going so far as to challenge their union leaders’ decision.
Criticism of the endorsement, the first time the union has taken sides in a presidential campaign, has come from all directions. Many agents lean conservative and were Ted Cruz supporters.
Others take issue with backing a campaign built in part by disparaging Mexican immigrants. That’s not surprising given the fact that about half of the nation’s 18,000 agents on the Southwest border are Latino. And there’s no shortage of white agents who hear the Trump backlash from their Latina wives.
Don McDermott, a former supervisor of an anti-smuggling unit in San Diego, said the endorsement vote by a small group of union leaders–11 in all–threatened to reflect negatively on all agents.
“It is probable that the endorsement of Mr. Trump would expose both the union and the individual members to accusations of xenophobia and even racism,” McDermott said. “The reputation of the agency and of every agent is called into question.”
Shawn Moran, the union’s vice president, dismissed concerns that siding with Trump tarnishes the agency’s reputation. “I think Border Patrol agents will be tough on enforcement but very generous in terms of empathy and how they take care of those that are in their custody,” he said.
But in communities where relations with the Border Patrol have been fraught with mistrust, leaders and agents fear the overheated rhetoric could manifest in ugly ways.
A group of agents in El Paso asked that their local union disavow the endorsement, drawing support from numerous business and community leaders. Their attempt narrowly failed in a 14-13 vote.
“One of the reasons that El Paso is the safest city in the United States is because of the trust developed between law enforcement and the El Paso community,” read a statement signed by several law enforcement and city officials from the area. “This trust is undermined by the [union] endorsement of a candidate for president who demeans and degrades immigrants and who has lied about the threats that exist at the U.S.-Mexico border to advance his bid for president.”
[Editor’s Note: See here for endorsement of Hillary Clinton by the American Federation of Government Employees.]