Posted on July 3, 2019

I Asked Latinos Why They Joined Immigration Law Enforcement. Now I’m Urging Them to Leave.

David Cortez, USA Today, June 3, 2109


I spent all of 2015 interviewing and observing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents across Arizona, California and Texas. My goal: to understand how the once predominantly white institution of immigration law enforcement, established and maintained historically as a tool of white supremacy, had come to be disproportionately made up of Latinos. In fact, Latinos make up more than 50% of Border Patrol agents and 24% of ICE agents, the most recent publicly available numbers I found.

I wanted to understand what possesses Latinos to work for agencies that round up or deport neighbors and family members from the very communities they call home. How do Latinos do this to their own people, I asked. Is it self-hatred? A denial of ethnic identity? Or do they think that being party to the state’s exclusionary machinery cements, in a way, their own individual claims to belonging as Americans — to whiteness?

In one interview after another over the span of 13 months, the answer became clear: It’s not any of these. For Latino agents, it’s about the money.


In my research, I find that among those Latinos who elect to enter immigration law enforcement, the majority do so solely in service of economic self-interest. {snip}

One agent I interviewed, for instance, acknowledged the connection between himself and the migrants he encounters as fellow Latinos, and explained that he felt bad, at times, working in immigration, but that he had to provide for his family. {snip}


In the valley, the percentage of people living in poverty ranks among the highest in the nation. Although Hispanics make up 39% of the Texas population, they make up 51% of the population living in poverty. The unemployment rate consistently outpaces the national average, and Latino median household income in the poorest RGV cities hovers around $31,000 per year.

Thus, the decision to apply for and accept a Customs and Border Protection job that offers a starting salary of nearly $56,000 a year and generous benefits is not a complicated one.