Advertisement
  • Focus

Last border hiring binge had some bad outcomes

President Trump wants to hire thousands of new Border Patrol agents and immigration and customs officers. Last time there was a spike in hiring for border security, things didn't go so well.

President Donald Trump's promise to crack down on illegal immigration includes not only a wall, but more people behind the wall — an additional 5,000 Border Patrol agents and 10,000 immigration officers.

Those lofty goals come with a set of unknowns — how soon, where will the money come from — and a recent history that provides some cautionary tales.

Advertisement

Like the story of Oscar Ortiz Martinez.

For years, Martinez had one goal in mind: become a federal law enforcement officer.

Advertisement

After a four-year stint in the Marine Corps he returned to his El Centro home in 2002, but it would take a while to achieve his dream. He worked as a security guard at a privately run immigration jail for years, before he was hired by Customs and Border Protection in 2006.

At first, Ortiz had a problem joining up. He was terminated in 2007 when a background check turned up a restraining order taken out by his ex-wife. Undeterred, he reapplied in 2008 and was hired.

It was a good time to join. CBP along with its sister agency, U.S. Border Patrol, was in the midst of an unprecedented hiring spree that would lead to both agencies doubling in size between 2003 and 2009.

That rapid increase in staffing came with some problems. Hiring standards were lowered, training at the Border Patrol Academy truncated, and background checks — a crucial step — were delayed or not performed at all.

Advertisement

Just months after being hired, a girlfriend accused Ortiz of stalking. And shortly after that, he became the target of a sting operation orchestrated by a federal task force focusing on border corruption. Ortiz was investigated for teaming up with a former colleague at the immigration jail to allow loads of drugs to be smuggled in to the U.S. through the inspection lane he staffed at the Calexico port of entry.

In 2013, he was convicted in federal court of bribery and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Ortiz took his place in an ignominious lineup of about 170 border law enforcement agents and officers who have been arrested, indicted or convicted in corruption cases since 2002.

Officials would later acknowledge the pressure to meet the hiring goals allowed less qualified candidates onto the force, and fueled in part a surge in the cases.

Trump's ambitious hiring goals have raised concern among some experts that it could lead to a repeat of the 2000s, when the push to hire set aside longstanding agency practices designed to screen out unqualified and unfit candidates.

It also raised other concerns about how quickly a ramp-up can be achieved and the capacity of the agencies to absorb extra workers.

"We'll have to see if they've learned the lessons from the last time," said Doris Meisner of the Migration Policy Institute, a former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, since reconstituted as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

"The core lesson is this is law enforcement, and these are agencies that have had rigorous standards over the years," she said. "You have to be in a position to be able to push back and not cut corners.

Advertisement

"That's not easy to do when there are pressures to build up quickly."

15 5 8 805 N 125 163 52 54 56 67 75 76 78 79 905 94 Two column plus headline 14 on 15.5 Chatter is BentonSansCond Regular 9.5 on 11 pt. leading One column plus headline 12 on 13.5 Chatter is Benton Gothic Regular 9 on 10 pt. leading National capitol State capitol Primary city Secondary city Geo feature Geo feature COUNTRY/STATE/CITY SAN DIEGO CO. N’HOOD/TOWN COUNTRY Parks/forests Body of water S13 S5 95 101 ALT 395 ALT 95 XX XXXX XX XXX XX XX XXX NAMED ST. 1 6 7 2 8 3 9 4 5 10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Research and analysis by NAME HERE ; graphic by ARTIST NAME U-T Percentages do not equal 100 because of rounding. Percentages might not equal 100 because of rounding. F o o tn o t e 1 1: Footnote explainer Margin of error: +/- 4.3 percentage points Source: U-T wire services Chart circle U-T @sdutgraphics LOS ANGELES TIMES NYT AP Annually Quarterly Daily closes Source: @sdutgraphics Test Graphic File name: sd-me-g-border-enforcement Section: in depth Run date: 03-12-17 Artist: Wheaton Size: 2 col. x5.60 inches Reporter approved: _________ Editor approved: ___________ P2P slug: XXXXXX Keywords: XXXXXX Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec vel faucibus leo. Etiam id finibus nunc. Donec convallis accumsan justo eget tincidunt. Pellentesque dignissim rutrum malesuada. Integer quis lacus eu tortor varius hendrerit nec efficitur diam. Fusce tempus hendrerit venenatis. Sed hendrerit nulla nec ex dapibus pharetra vel sed tellus. In vitae tortor eu orci imperdiet commodo. Donec aliquam ante nec erat rhoncus hendrerit. Ut dignissim felis quis viverra pulvinar. Sed imperdiet elementum eros, nec efficitur magna venenatis eu. Integer quis orci eu magna dapibus consequat. Nulla ornare metus neque, ac ultrices nisl placerat vel. Duis pulvinar enim sit amet elit tristique, at accumsan sem condimentum. STORY HEADLINE STYLE N North symbol Mountain Airport Quake Hurricanes: Categories 3, 4, and 5 Tropical storms Hurricanes: Categories 1 and 2 Picnic area Gate Campground Detailed Greys Sand Local blue Business green Sports red Entertainment plum Dialog grape Travel orange Zones aqua 1 2 3 4 5 Highlight UT Blue Cherry Sun name.last@sduniontribune.com Data watch Data watch Headline style Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec vel faucibus leo. Etiam id finibus nunc. Donec convallis accumsan justo eget tincidunt. Pellentesque dignissim rutrum malesuada. Integer quis lacus eu tortor varius hendrerit nec efficitur diam. Fusce tempus hendrerit venenatis. Sed hendrerit nulla nec ex dapibus pharetra vel sed tellus. In vitae tortor eu orci imperdiet commodo. Donec aliquam ante nec erat rhoncus hendrerit. Ut dignissim felis quis viverra pulvinar. Sed imperdiet elementum eros, nec efficitur magna venenatis eu. Integer quis orci eu magna dapibus consequat. Nulla ornare metus neque, ac ultrices nisl placerat vel. Duis pulvinar enim sit amet elit tristique, at accumsan sem condimentum. Duis id mauris et nibh mollis eleifend non vitae justo. Donec eu facilisis felis. Pellen - tesque mattis risus dolor, a suscipit leo mattis et. Donec massa sapien, semper vel iaculis pretium, venenatis posuere orci. Integer metus tortor, hendrerit eu elementum id, bibendum ac eros. Integer odio leo, molestie eu quam a, tempus maximus sem. Aliquam at augue vel mi rhoncus ultricies eu id nisl. Duis faucibus tortor tellus, at iaculis ipsum rutrum et. Nulla rhoncus dui est, ac volutpat purus hendrerit bibendum. magna bibendum, nec ultricies libero fermentum. Proin tincidunt ligula ut est eleifend facilisis. Suspendisse a vulputate elit, eget aliquam sem. Pellentesque lacinia in elit et viverra. Sed vitae convallis eros. Donec sed neque vitae lectus hendrerit posuere. Vivamus hendrerit et enim sed pharetra. Integer sit amet porttitor mauris, non porta justo. viverra. Sed vitae convallis eros. Donec sed neque vitae lectus hendrerit po amet porttitor mauris, non porta justo. BENTONSANSCOND 42 ON 42 BentonModernThree Roman 11 on 13 12 Large number callout with type For story galleries, twitter and facebook ONLINE TEMPLATE XX miles Source: U.S. Border Patrol DANIEL WHEATON U-T U.S. Border Patrol staffing By fiscal year 1992 4,139 4,208 4,287 4,945 5,942 6,895 7,982 8,351 9,212 9,821 10,045 10,717 10,819 11,264 12,349 14,923 17,499 20,119 20,588 21,444 21,394 21,391 20,863 19,828 20,273 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 San Diego sector Southwestern sectors Remaining sectors Source: Bloomberg ARTIST NAME U-T 12,000 11,500 11,000 10,500 10,000 9,500 March April May June March 5 10,444.14 Daily closes Benton Gothic Bold 10 on 11 Friday 9,931.97 Source: Bloomberg ARTIST NAME U-T Benton Gothic Bold 10 on 11 BentonGothic regular ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07 ’06 ’05 ’04 FY 0 500 1,000 1,500 2,000 520 0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000
Trump’s executive order

Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, is the largest law enforcement agency in the nation with about 43,000 officers and agents.

A January executive order issued by Trump would bring a 25 percent increase in staffing for the Border Patrol, and would triple the number of ICE officers, from 5,000 now to eventually 15,000.

In October, long before Trump's plans were announced, the Inspector General for Homeland Security released a report saying that the Department of Homeland Security was slow to hire law enforcement positions.

The report showed that it took 282 days, about nine months, to hire a single Border Patrol agent. That was an improvement from 2013, when it took 420 days to hire an agent.

At ICE, it took 212 days to hire a single officer in 2015. That, too, was better than 2012 when it took 1,161 days to hire a single deportation officer.

The report pointed to insufficient staffing to support the hiring surge. In 2015, ICE had three people to process 3,000 applications for entry-level deportation officer jobs — and this was during a previous hiring surge.

In February, after the executive orders were issued calling for more Border Patrol and ICE staff, Inspector General John Roth testified to a congressional committee that DHS "will face a number of challenges" in executing the orders.

After referring to the long hiring times, he said his office would work with the agencies to help "avoid previously identified poor management practices and their negative impacts," a reference to the corruption and misconduct problems.

While only a small faction of the total workforce has been implicated, the slew of misconduct cases cast a pall over the agency and led to scrutiny from watchdogs, media and congress.

"Even one is too much," said David Aguilar, the Border Patrol chief during the George W. Bush administration when the hiring surge was launched.

DHS has been trying to get a handle on corruption problems in its border security forces for several years. In 2014, then-Secretary Jeh Johnson convened a high-level Integrity Advisory Panel and ordered it to examine several issues, including preventing corruption.

Among the panel's early recommendations was that CBP urgently needed to add hundreds of criminal investigators to its Internal Affairs division to investigate allegations.

In its final report issued in March 2016, the panel said CBP needed 550 full-time investigators to do the job and recommended that 350 be added over the next three years.

According to the report, the agency had added only 57, with plans to add just 30 more the next fiscal year. At that pace, the panel said it would take almost a decade to get Internal Affairs to the staffing levels it said were needed to root out corruption.

"This leaves CBP vulnerable to a corruption scandal that could potentially threaten the security of our nation," the panel wrote last year.

Hiring logjam

At the time of the report — months before Trump called for the increases in staffing in his executive order — CBP was already having problems hiring new agents and officers. One problem appears to be an anti-corruption measure requested by Congress.

In 2012, in response to the corruption cases, Congress ordered CBP to administer pre-employment polygraphs to all new applicants. In January, the Associated Press reported that two of three applicants fail the polygraph exam — twice that of other law enforcement agencies.

The former head of CBP said the results showed the polygraphs were working, but others said it showed the tests were being applied too stringently, with examiners trying to trip up otherwise qualified candidates.

An internal memo last month from CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said the agency wanted to take some steps to meet the hiring goals, including waiving the polygraph exam for some applicants, and giving itself the power to "determine the type and level of background investigation needed for CBP positions."

Advertisement

On Friday three senators formally introduced a bill that would waive the polygraph tests for applicants in law enforcement and veterans.

Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, the labor union that represents agents, said the polygraph process had to be examined because many qualified candidates were being put through excessively long questioning — often lasting four to eight hours or longer. But Moran said the agency can't let its guard down elsewhere when it comes to relaxing hiring standards.

The union warned in 2004, as the last hiring surge began, that a sudden increase in staffing to meet hiring goals was unwise, he said.

"We were chastised then because we sounded the alarm," he said. "We don't want to cut corners because I think we will live to regret it again. Every agency that has had a mass hiring push has ended up at some time cutting corners, and they live to regret it. It takes an entire generation to recover from that. We are really going to do ourselves a disservice if we cut corners."

A year earlier, McAleenan gave a slightly different gloss on the CBP hiring bottleneck in testimony in front of a Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee. He said that the attrition rate for Border Patrol agents had shot up over the past year. Historically, attrition in the force was about 3 percent annually, but now was at 5.5 percent. Agents were leaving for better pay at other agencies, and better assignments that were not in the often remote locations the patrol operates in across the southwest border.

McAleenan also mentioned the polygraphs, but indicated they were important. "We have low polygraph clear rates and a lack of full polygraph capacity — not enough federally certified polygraphers to keep pace with the requirement, which we think is very valuable in ensuring integrity of our front line personnel," he said.

At the Migration Policy Institute, Meisner said any move to relax hiring standards would be troubling.

"That was the lesson learned from the 2000s," she said. "You cannot, you must not, take short cuts."

DHS did not respond to a request for comment for this story on the expanded hiring issues.

While CBP and Border Patrol applicants have to take the polygraph test, there is no such requirement for ICE officers. Even without that step, Meisner said that given the time it takes to recruit, train and deploy an ICE officer, the agency can absorb slightly more than 1,000 new hires a year.

"That makes this an 8- to 10-year plan, and not a two- to four-year plan," she said.

In the memo from February, McAleenan estimated it would take five years and cost $2.2 billion to meet the Trump hiring goals for Border Patrol.

Some experts are more upbeat about how the projected hiring increases can work out. Aguilar, from the Bush administration, noted the Border Patrol doubled in size during the surge — and said that the agency has learned from that experience and understands what it means to grow so fast.

"We should be very focused on the who, what, where and when of hiring," said Aguilar, who is retired from government and a principal in the consulting firm GSIS. "When we were growing the Border Patrol, it was doubling in size in a very compressed time frame.

"But now we are taking the lessons learned from that and applying it to a force of 20,000 that is growing 25 percent."

McAleenan's memo said the Border Patrol force would grow to 26,730 after hiring new agents — and recruiting for 1,700 currently unfilled spots. The memo showed there are currently 2,470 agents in the San Diego sector, and that could grow to 2,900 or 3,000.

The memos said that the agency expects to be able to nearly double its annual hiring rate from a baseline of 485 to 917. And he said not to expect the impact of the hiring plan in this fiscal year.

Twitter: @gregmoran

Advertisement
Advertisement