As part of a broader new national border security strategy that focuses on “intelligence driven” enforcement, the Border Patrol in September issued a change to long-standing policy that now requires Border Patrol field offices to discontinue routine operations to check transportation hubs for illegal aliens, according to Border Patrol officials.
In the past, Border Patrol agents routinely searched buses, trains and airports for illegal aliens at transportation hubs along the borders and even further inland. The new policy though effectively stops this practice. Border Patrol officials said the use of “intelligence driven” enforcement will provide better targeting of checks of transportation hubs for illegal aliens, thus making better use of Border Patrol agents and resources.
Border Patrol’s transportation checks generally involved specially trained agents who would question people at transportation hubs who appeared suspicious according to certain criteria. But these practices had come under increasing attack by both immigrant and civil rights groups who claimed the tactic consisted of racial profiling and violated the civil rights of the persons questioned.
The new policy, which has been met with criticism from some officials inside the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), comes on the heels of the Obama administration having earlier announced that as part of its approach to relieve an overstrained immigration system it would allow an untold number of illegal aliens to stay in the US while it concentrates on deporting illegals who have for the most part committed violent crimes.
Authorities familiar with the matter told Homeland Security Today the practice of performing transportation hub checks has been an effective tool for nabbing illegal aliens who’d somehow managed to evade detection at a border Port of Entry (PoE), as well as people whose visas were expired.
These officials said the new policy will prevent agents from routinely continuing to use what they said had long been an effective tool for finding people in the United States illegally.
But more important than that, they said, the practice also helped agents to ferret out narco-smugglers - and even terrorists. Border Patrol’s primary mission is to prevent terrorists from getting into the United States.
"As is the case with any law enforcement agency, the Border Patrol is constantly reviewing and adjusting strategies in order to improve operational effectiveness,” Homeland Security Today was told by Bill Brooks, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Southwest Border Field Branch Chief, Office of Public Affairs.
Brooks explained that "headquarters provides guidance to sectors including ways in which sectors may refine methods to better manage risk and mitigate threats facing their Areas of Operation (AOR).”
Brooks explained that “additional resources and manpower along the northern border in recent years have improved border security and our situational awareness,” and that “local field commanders in the sectors analyze intelligence pertaining to threats, risks and vulnerabilities facing their AOR's on a daily basis and resources are deployed to mitigate these threats accordingly utilizing a variety of enforcement techniques.
"Intelligence driven transportation checks are one of many tactics utilized to address emerging threats,” Brooks said.
Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported to Congress that in contrast to the extensive and routine sharing of intelligence and other cooperative efforts that exist between the federal agencies responsible for protecting the homeland from threats coming across the southern border, just the opposite was found to be occurring on America’s northern border.
Despite the panoply of intelligence sharing and inter-agency cooperation reforms that were implemented following Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attack, GAO concluded that the pre-9/11 problems that required these reforms continued to exist along the roughly 4,000 miles of the US’s border with Canada, and that as a result, they posed a serious gap in the nation’s northern border defenses.
On October 11, the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers (NAFBPO) issued a statement expressing the group’s concerns about the new policy after it began to be implemented.
“The phrase ‘intelligence-driven’ means that transportation check operations may now be conducted only if there is specific advance information that illegal aliens or drugs are likely to be found by the operation,” NAFBPO said.
NAFBPO stressed that “for nearly sixty years, Border Patrol Agents have routinely observed passengers at bus stations, airports and train depots in towns near the border. When their practiced eyes and minds develop suspicions of alienage, agents may question an individual or group. This practice, authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act and confirmed by court decisions, results in the arrests of thousands of illegal aliens a year across the nation. Many of them are violent criminals or smugglers of drugs or humans.”
NAFBPO said it “is appalled by this new, next step in the degradation of the Border Patrol's ability to secure the border. Effective border control is an operation that must take place in-depth,” and that “that depth goes beyond simple mileage and includes control of modes of transportation that illegal aliens use to move away from the scenes of their crimes along the border.”
“Aliens illegally in the United States now have one less reason to fear detection and removal,” NAFBPO said. “We call upon the Department of Homeland Security to live up to its name and rescind this change.”
“We can't stop doing our jobs … If they want an amnesty, push one through, but don't make agents sit on their hands,” a veteran DHS official told Homeland Security Today.
“I know our station management was not happy [with the new change in policy], explaining that “this will hurt our yearly [illegal alien apprehension and drug interdiction] numbers,” said a veteran Border Patrol agent.
Last Thursday, the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) said in its own statement on the matter that, “in yet another move aimed to handcuff the effectiveness of Border Patrol agents, orders have been sent out from Border Patrol headquarters in Washington, DC to Border Patrol sectors nationwide that checks of transportation hubs and systems located away from the southwest border of the United States will only be conducted if there is intelligence indicating a threat.”
NBPC said CBP's Bill Brooks had said “we are refining the way we operate by managing risk.” Brooks reportedly told KRGV, which covers the Rio Grande Valley, October 21 that under the new policy Border Patrol agents will be at commercial transportation hubs only if intelligence justifies them being there.
“Stated plainly,” NBPC said, “Border Patrol managers are increasing the layers of bureaucracy and making it as difficult as possible for Border Patrol agents to conduct their core duties. The only risks being managed by this move are too many apprehensions, negative media attention and complaints generated by immigrant rights groups.”
“Interior patrol operations, farm and ranch checks and other enforcement operations met a similar fate nearly ten years ago when the Border Patrol implemented the same intelligence-based philosophy,” NBPC said in its statement. “Due to the unnecessary bureaucratic red tape, it is next to impossible to get an operation in those areas approved; therefore, apprehensions in those areas also decreased.”
But “by decreasing apprehensions,” the association stated, “Border Patrol management and the administration can make false claims regarding the security of our borders. Further, the lack of apprehensions makes it easier for the administration to promote some form of amnesty.”
NBPC said “Border Patrol agents have been extremely effective in arresting illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and those violating a myriad of laws by conducting transportation checks. Millions of illegal aliens are currently residing in the United States and they are utilizing transportation systems to travel throughout the country. This change in policy would give criminals a free pass to exploit these transit systems. A decade ago nineteen illegal aliens overstayed visas and showed the vulnerability of our transportation system, which resulted in nearly 3,000 Americans losing their lives.”
“This lesson must be lost on those running the Border Patrol in Washington,” the association concluded.
Although the new policy was issued in September, DHS officials said some Border Patrol sector stations and CBP Field Operations offices didn’t get their new orders until just a few days ago.
Officials familiar with the new policy said they weren’t briefed on it until this past Saturday, the day after the Associated Press reported on the new orders.
One of the sources said “the new policy … just hit us … I was not aware of the new policy until today [Saturday] … we were not let in on the new policy until today. We’d heard rumors that a sector out west was not allowed to perform bus checks, yet, now, it is all the … border sectors.”
Continuing, the official said “we were told [that this policy had been implemented at] a station out west and that we needed intelligence to hit bus, train and airports. Yet, they did not mention it as a new mandate/policy - thought they were simply keeping us from doing it until the problem out west was addressed. I will have to speak to our Union president. This was never pushed out to members.”
Another DHS official described the new policy as “a stupid open border move,” explaining “we get numerous apprehensions in [a specific sector]. The illegals that make it through the Ports of Entry or beat us on the line between the [PoEs] make their way to the big city of --------------- and take the first Greyhound ….”
“However, we do have a ‘wiggle’ room technique we will be using … that is using intel-based transportation checks,” the official noted. “An agent will call another agent reporting a possible illegal alien at the bus, train or airport stations,” and “the agent will notify his station chain of command [who] will call the sector brass, who in turn will call DC. Based on the phone tip, it will be considered intel and thus, allow agents to act on that intel!”
Border Patrol also has had the authority to stop and search vehicles as far as 100 miles inland from the borders if agents have reason to believe a vehicle is transporting illegal aliens, narcotics or other contraband.
For instance, Border Patrol operates numerous checkpoints on major highways like the one between Las Cruces, New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona, and between the Nogales, Arizona Port of Entry (PoE) and Tucson.
It was unclear whether the new policy impacts this long-standing authority.