The New York Times: Border Agents Lured by the Other Side
In this New York Times story, Randal C. Archibald and FRONTLINE/World correspondent Andrew Becker report on the case of two former Border Patrol officers, Raul Villareal and his brother Fidel, who are "suspected of helping to smuggle an untold number of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Brazil across the border." Both men quit the Border Patrol two years ago and are believed to be somewhere in Mexico.
The problem of corrupted officers has begun to plague the Border Patrol as it continues to ramps up recruitment to meet stricter security measures at the border. The agency is so concerned about rising corruption among its officers, it will soon introduce lie detector tests to check whether potential new hires are already working with smuggling groups.
According to the Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General, the number of corruption cases against United States border guards in the four states bordering Mexico more than doubled between 2003 and 2007.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Set up in March 2003, the DHS oversees 22 federal organizations involved in national security. The department currently employs more than 200,000 employees; more than 70,000 of those work directly in immigration and border security.
The DHS has taken a multi-agency approach to tackle corruption at the border, and any number of federal agencies may work together to investigate corruption cases. The list of possible collaborators include the DHS Office of Inspector General; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Internal Affairs; Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of Investigations; the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Customs and Border Protection is now the nation's largest federal law enforcement agency. Critics say the Homeland Security Department is a bureaucratic and inefficient super agency, while others acknowledge that the department is a work-in-progress. Along with the Department of Defense, the DHS has received the most criticism for lack of spending accountability. In February 2008, the department’s chief Michael Chertoff asked Congress to approve a budget of $50 billion for the running of the department in 2009, up from $46 billion in 2008.
Federal Agencies Involved in Enforcing U.S. Immigration Policy
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
ICE is the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Its Office of Investigations runs a number of programs specifically aimed at prosecuting human trafficking and smuggling organizations.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
CBP was created when the U.S. Customs Service merged with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 2003. The border patrol’s primary focus is to prevent terrorists, weapons, illegal aliens and contraband from entering the United States between the legal ports of entry, while Customs and Border Protection officers are stationed at established border crossings.
U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard enforces U.S. immigration law at sea. Most migrants apprehended by the Coast Guard are not brought into the United States, but deported back to the countries of departure.
U.S. Department of JUSTICE (DOJ)
There are 93 U.S. attorneys stationed throughout the U.S. and its territories. They work under the Office of the Attorney General, as the top federal law enforcement officers for their regions across the country. The DOJ also has jurisdiction over alien smuggling because of the highly organized criminal nature of the operations. Immigration fraud offenses are prosecuted by the DOJ under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
The FBI may take part in specific immigration investigations, particularly those with potential links to terrorism. The FBI may also get involved in alien smuggling cases when the crime falls under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or when federal officers, such as border patrol agents, are assaulted by smugglers. FBI legal attaches often take the lead in collaborating with other countries to combat human smuggling.
U.S. State Department
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
This is the U.S. State Department’s law enforcement arm with agents posted in more than 160 countries. The bureau is responsible for investigating U.S. passport and visa frauds -- cases that are often tied directly to human smuggling operations. U.S. passports and visas are widely considered to be the most valuable identity and travel documents in the world.
Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
The bureau’s role is to help develop policies and programs (for example, technical help and training) to combat international narcotics trafficking and other crimes, including human smuggling. It holds no law enforcement powers.
Source: Government Accountability Office’s “Federal Response to Alien Smuggling.”
MORE IMMIGRATION FACTS
Number of Illegal Immigrants in the U.S.
In 2007, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated that between 11 and 12 million illegal immigrants live in the U.S., making up 30 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population. Approximately 56 percent of those people hailed from Mexico.
Penalties for U.S. Employers Hiring Illegal Workers
As of March 2008, the minimum fine for first offenders caught hiring illegal immigrants is $375 per worker, up to a maximum fine of $3,200. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $16,000 per worker. In 2002, 485 employers were arrested for hiring illegal immigrants. That number rose to 3,667 in 2006.
Increase in Border Patrol Officers
The number of customs and border patrol officers is expected to reach more than 18,000 by the end of 2008. By presidential order in June 2006, an additional 6,000 National Guards were added to 2,000 already serving to beef up security at the border. The border patrol has come under criticism in recent years for claims that it’s not doing sufficient background checks on candidates in a rush to hire new recruits. Some critics say this could also account for the rise in the number of corruption cases among patrol officers.
Corruption on the Rise
Federal officials say there are roughly 200 open corruption cases involving DHS employees working in the four border states -- California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Most of the cases under investigation were in Texas and California. The Department’s Inspector General’s office would not disclose how many cases involved human smuggling. Since 2002, the FBI has nearly doubled the number of special agents dedicated to public corruption investigations in general, while the number of corruption cases has increased by more than 50 percent.
According to the Department of Justice, the number of defendants charged by the Public Integrity Section in the six-year period from 2001 to 2006 increased by 52 percent over the previous period from 1993 to 2000. The number of actual convictions over the same period was up by 31 percent.
Visa Overstays Versus Illegal Entries
A 2006 study by the Pew Hispanic Center reported that nearly half of all illegal migrants living in the U.S. legally entered the country through a legal port of entry such as an airport or a border crossing point. Approximately 45 percent of illegal immigrants are in the U.S. on expired visas. The remaining 55 percent arrived by clandestine means.
A Fence Is Not the Solution
Those against a security fence, including immigration expert Wayne Cornelius, suggest there are more effective ways to control illegal immigration. Cornelius recommends more emphasis on workplace enforcement and to legalize most of the illegal immigrants already living in the U.S. After researching Mexican migrant behavior and the economics of U.S. immigration policy over several decades, he believes a better solution to a physical barrier, increased enforcement and mounting incarceration and deportation costs, is to provide more opportunities through temporary guest-worker programs, particularly in the agricultural sector, and more green card allocations. He also suggests funding development programs with Mexico to help stimulate some of the poorest regions south of the border.
Full sources: Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California-San Diego; The Christian Science Monitor; The Department of Homeland Security; Government Accountability Office; The Los Angeles Times; Pew Hispanic Center; San Diego Chamber of Commerce; The San Diego Tribune; The New York Times; U.S. Border Patrol; The Washington Post.