Border Patrol Cleared of Falsifying Data
U.S. Justice Department investigators on Tuesday rejected allegations that the Border Patrol falsified arrest data to overstate the success of Operation Gatekeeper, the high-profile crackdown on illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The two-year probe by the Justice Department’s inspector general began in the wake of charges by Border Patrol union officials in the summer of 1996 that arrests of illegal immigrants were being underreported in the San Diego sector to show Gatekeeper was working. The charges also were made then before a congressional and an Assembly subcommittee.
Though finding communication lapses by supervisors, Inspector General Michael R. Bromwich concluded there was “no evidence” that Border Patrol or Immigration and Naturalization Service officials sought to mislead the public about the effectiveness of Gatekeeper, launched in San Diego in October 1994.
“After a thorough and wide-ranging investigation, we can say with confidence that neither INS nor Border Patrol personnel participated in an organized effort aimed at falsifying records, preventing agents from performing their duties or misleading the public about Operation Gatekeeper’s accomplishments,” Bromwich said in a statement issued in Washington.
Bromwich said investigators conducted 364 interviews and examined more than 100,000 pages of material during the probe.
A spokesman for the Border Patrol union in San Diego labeled the report a “whitewash.” “We anticipated this. We knew it would come down to this. We are definitely not surprised,” said Joseph Dassaro, vice president of Local 1613 of the National Border Patrol Council. He said that more than 150 agents gave confidential testimony and that some provided documents. But he said proving the allegations was difficult.
The union had charged that illegal immigrants were being returned to Mexico without being counted and that intelligence reports were scrubbed of information that would cast the operation in a negative light.
The arrest figures are the primary gauge of how many people are crossing into the United States illegally. A drop in arrests is generally interpreted to mean fewer people crossing.
INS officials voiced satisfaction with the report, saying that, through Gatekeeper, the INS gained control of the San Diego border sector, which once accounted for more than 40% of illegal immigrant arrests nationwide. Apprehensions in the sector hit a 17-year low last year and are on pace to dip lower this year.
“The issuance of the report provides INS with the opportunity to assess its multiyear border strategy to regain control of the Southwest border by deterring illegal entries while facilitating legal traffic. Because San Diego had become the busiest corridor for illegal crossings, Operation Gatekeeper was designed as the centerpiece in that strategy,” INS Commissioner Doris Meissner said in a statement.
Bromwich criticized Border Patrol managers for failing to adequately communicate with agents about the goals and strategy of Gatekeeper, which sought to fortify the San Diego area border with more agents, border fences, lights, ground sensors and infrared night scopes. Under the new strategy, agents who once moved freely around their zones making arrests were assigned to stay put at certain spots to deter would-be crossers.
“Poor communication between management and line agents created an atmosphere of suspicion on which the fraud allegations thrived,” Bromwich said.
Johnny Williams, who was Border Patrol chief in San Diego during much of the enforcement push, said some agents were resistant to the drastic shift in enforcement tactics under Gatekeeper.
“This was a pace of change that was about 180 degrees,” said Williams, now Western regional director of the INS.