GWEN IFILL: The influx of unaccompanied children continues at the southern U.S. border. The White House says the number coming across has decreased in the past month. But Border Patrol agents say they’re still overwhelmed.Jeffrey Brown has another in our occasional series of conversations with people on the front lines of the crisis.
JEFFREY BROWN: Earlier this month, we talked with an immigration judge about the overwhelming volume of immigrants who’ve entered the country illegally and are ending up in the court system.
Tonight, we’re joined by Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents Border Patrol agents. Moran himself has been an agent for 17 years.
And welcome to you.
I want to ask first about those recent reports that as news of more deportations has spread, the numbers of people trying to enter the country is dropping. At least apprehensions are down. Does that jibe with what you’re seeing?
SHAWN MORAN, National Border Patrol Council: Well, we are seeing a dip.
And we’re not sure exactly what the cause of it is. Historically, we have seen drops in the summertime due to the heat and humidity in South Texas and along the southwest border. Also the beast, the so-called freight train that has been bringing people through Mexico from Central America, has been derailed for the past two weeks. So we think that has also helped contribute to the dip in numbers.
JEFFREY BROWN: Specifically with the situation of so many children entering, what’s the role of the Border Patrol and how has that changed the work of you and other agents?
SHAWN MORAN: Well, our job, we are the primary law enforcement agency in between the ports of entry. So if you come across the border and you are not a U.S. citizen, you can expect to have a Border Patrol agent try to encounter you.
And with the situation in South Texas, we’re having large groups that are surrendering and wanting to take part either in asylum or to be released in some way. So our agents are being the first ones out there to arrest. And we are in large numbers doing the processing that takes place for the family groups that are then released, and also for the unaccompanied juveniles who are then released to a relative in the U.S.
JEFFREY BROWN: And it looks as though that has led to some frustration at times. There has been at least one case of a tweet sent out by a union, then later recalled, that suggested that you were being asked to do some things you are not used to doing.
SHAWN MORAN: That’s true.
Border Patrol agents, you know, we will do whatever we have to do to get the job done, but our concern is the fact that we have so many of our agents doing processing and other related duties such as baby-sitting, making food, doing medical care, that we don’t have our agents out on the border doing their primary job, which is trying to secure the southwest border and make sure that people aren’t coming across.
So it definitely has had an impact on our operations. And it does have an impact on morale when you’re doing all these things for these groups of people that are coming across the border, and then we just see them walk out the front door, essentially getting what they came here for.
JEFFREY BROWN: It’s just — it was just reported today, in fact, that the Obama administration is sending a team to the border to assess whether National Guard troops could help and what they would do. It’s something that a number of people, especially Republicans, of course, have called for already. What’s your reaction and what has been your experience in the past?
SHAWN MORAN: Well, we have some serious concerns about any potential troop deployments on the border.
The number one thing that we saw during Operation Jump Start, when President Bush sent the National Guard down, was that the talk was these people were going to be working on the border to free up Border Patrol agents. They were unarmed. They were not allowed to have any illegal alien contact, so essentially what happened is you would have a Border Patrol agent working one of our mobile cameras.
They would be removed from the truck. The National Guardsman would be put in there. And then you would put a Border Patrol right next to that truck to protect them. So we never really saw the manpower gains that we were told. It seemed to be more window dressing than anything.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so from the perspective of your union and from Border Patrol agents, what would you like to see? What do you feel you most need?
SHAWN MORAN: Well, the thing that confounds us the most is that we’re having a border crisis, yet we don’t have 100 percent Border Patrol staffing.
During sequestration, the Customs and Border Protection reduced the amount of hours that Border Patrol agents have historically worked from a minimum of 10-hour shifts, sometimes longer if you’re working a case or you’re tracking a group, and they have reduced it. In some cases, our canine agents are working eight hours and being sent home. They are some of our most effective units out there.
And that’s leaving huge gaps in coverage, because if you can’t work the full 10 hours and you don’t have the overlap of shifts, this isn’t like a police precinct where White House a couple of minutes you can be at your post. Some of our agents are traveling up to two hours to go out and patrol the area in their assigned area.
So we think full Border Patrol staffing is the first step that any plan should have entailed.
JEFFREY BROWN: And just very briefly, all of this, of course, much caught up in politics.
SHAWN MORAN: It is.
The Border Patrol agents, we often feel like political footballs. Everybody claims to want to secure the border, but nobody seems to want to really do anything about it. And so it can be very demoralizing for a Border Patrol agent, but, luckily, we have very motivated people. They go out there and they continue to do the job under very difficult circumstances.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Mr. Moran, finally, I would be remiss in not asking about some reports that have been in the media, especially from our colleagues at NPR, about excessive force used by Border Patrol agents, specifically about abuses of children, holding them in freezing rooms, verbal and psychological abuse.
Are those things happening? Are you looking into those things?
SHAWN MORAN: We are, but I — in 17 years as a Border Patrol agent, I have never heard ourselves referred to as freezers, so that was new when I spoke to John Burnett this weekend about this story.
I believe as a Border Patrol agent, when you encounter a child, there’s nothing that pulls at your heartstrings more. Border Patrol agents know better than anyone else how dangerous the border is. And to see a child coming across there, especially by themselves, definitely, as I said, pulls at the heartstrings and brings out the compassion.
To say that Border Patrol agents are going out there and trying to make this situation more difficult for juveniles that are here illegally, I just don’t believe it.
JEFFREY BROWN: So you don’t believe sleep deprivation or physical or psychological abuse, you just don’t think it’s happening, in spite of these reports?
SHAWN MORAN: I don’t think it’s purposely happening.
But somebody going into a cell, if they’re the oncoming desk officer and they’re in charge of knowing exactly how many people they have in custody, that could easily be misconstrued as sleep deprivation. You have to wake people up. You have to have them lift up the blankets if they have their kids under there, so that you know exactly how many people you have in custody, and that you know that the security of everyone in your custody is at 100 percent, and that nobody is being endangered by fellow detainees.
JEFFREY BROWN: And are these things being investigated, as far as you know?
SHAWN MORAN: I am sure that CDP and the Department of Homeland Security, if they have allegations made against Border Patrol agents, in the past, they have wholeheartedly investigated these.
And most of the time, I would say that they are found to be meritless. And I hope that DHS will investigate it if they believe these to be true.
JEFFREY BROWN: Shawn Moran of the National Border Patrol Council, thank you very much.
SHAWN MORAN: Thank you, sir, for having me.