This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
The US Homeland Security Department has been reluctant to send helicopters on nighttime missions to aid the Border Patrol, leaving agents to face drug smugglers and illegal immigrants without critical air cover, the chief of the agents’ labor union told Congress late last month. Brandon Judd, an agent and also president of the National Border Patrol Council, said that unless President Trump can solve that kind of bureaucratic obstacle, he will struggle to secure the border.
Judd said that when the Border Patrol controlled its own helicopters, it got the air support it needed. But after the Homeland Security Department was created over a decade ago, the helicopters were turned over to the Office of Air and Marine, which has been reluctant to fly the nighttime hours the agents need.
“We talk about securing the border, we can absolutely secure it, but it cannot be secure if our operations are not sound,” Judd told The Washington Times. “What’s very concerning to Border Patrol agents is, to this point, we still have the same people who gave us all of the failed operations, who were the authors of the catch-and-release program. They’re still in charge even under this current administration,” the union chief said.
Trump’s early changes to enforcement policy have helped boost morale, said Judd and Chris Crane, the head of the union for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council. But they said the agencies’ leadership needs attention.
The complaints of bureaucratic bungling struck home with both Democrats and Republicans on the homeland security committee, who said they are eager to find bipartisan areas where they can help the agents get things going.
One challenge is the polygraph test, which all Border Patrol applicants must pass. The agency’s 75% failure rate is higher than that of any other law enforcement department, but the top brass say they are committed to it, even as they prepare to try to hire 5,000 more agents to comply with Trump’s executive orders. Even police officers who have passed polygraphs for their current jobs but who are looking to transfer can end up failing, Judd said.
Both Democrats and Republicans said they are eager to clean up the immigration agencies within the Homeland Security Department and would like to find common ground with the agents and officers. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said the panelists want to know the names of bureaucrats who are standing in the way of smart enforcement — though she said the Border Patrol unions, which endorsed Trump in the election campaign, may have a greater claim to the president’s ear. However, one Democrat, Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, said she worries that the agency is expanding too quickly, without training to protect illegal immigrants from overzealous enforcement. She wanted to make sure agents weren’t going after lesser-priority targets.
“When troops on the ground have not been trained, it leads to dysfunction because there is a lack of consistency and accountability and direction,” she said.
Brandon Judd said the helicopters are a perfect illustration: Most illegal crossings are attempted at night, and air support is critical for maintaining visibility. Just as important, when those attempting to sneak in hear a helicopter overhead, they are less likely to run — making the apprehension easier and less dangerous for agents. Judd said the air division has dedicated most of its resources to the Border Patrol, but not at the right times, leaving the agents without night cover. The Homeland Security inspector general has been particularly withering in its evaluation of the program, saying CBP has a tough time keeping its aircraft aloft and in scheduling missions and can’t demonstrate the worth of the program.