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Maya Srikrishnan's biweekly roundup of stories on the border, immigration and the San Diego-Baja California region (Mondays)
You’re not imagining things: Stories about border agents arrested for committing crimes routinely pop up in the news. A new study drives home just how widespread the corruption is.
A federal jury in San Diego recently convicted Johnny Martin, a former Department of Homeland Security supervisor, of lying to the FBI. Martin had personally taken confidential information from law enforcement databases and passed it to two men, who ended up using the data to scam more than 100 immigrants, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of California.
This isn’t the first instance of a DHS official being charged with crimes.
A San Diego federal judge sentenced former U.S. Border Patrol Agent Cesar Daleo in May to 30 months in prison for conspiring to distribute a controlled substance that is used to make deadly fentanyl, and 24 months for conspiring to smuggle a protected species of sea cucumber.
A senior DHS agent in Arizona who is the husband of one of the agency’s highest-ranking and most respected female agents has been charged with sexually assaulting a junior female agent, the New York Times reported.
A 2015 Homeland Security Advisory Council report even noted that “arrests for corruption of [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] personnel far exceed, on a per capita basis, such arrests at other federal law enforcement agencies.”
David Jancsics, a San Diego State University sociologist, wanted to see just how widespread corruption is in CBP. CBP is a part of the Department of Homeland Security and includes both Border Patrol officers and personnel who work ports of entry, like the San Ysidro border crossing.
Jancsics used documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Texas Tribune to analyze data from cases where customs officers and Border Patrol agents had been arrested, charged and convicted for corruption between October 2004 and October 2015. He published a study in Security Journal that reviewed 160 cases.
“One of the main implications of the study is that strict border enforcement may even increase corruption,” said Jancsics in an SDSU news release. “Organized crime groups will actively target federal border law enforcement to assist with their illicit transport, since bribing agents is less risky than being caught by random inspections.”
More than two-thirds of the cases stemmed from the U.S.-Mexico border. Texas had the highest number of cases, followed by California. Arizona had the third highest number.
Jancsics found 56 percent of officers with less than five years of service were involved in drug trafficking, compared with 27 percent of veteran officers. Immigration corruption cases showed the reverse pattern: Forty percent of veteran officers were involved in human smuggling compared with 25 percent of early career officers.
In response to the study, CBP told KPBS that even after they’re hired, agents continue to receive training that promotes accountability to the agency’s mission.
CBP methamphetamine seizures have been steadily increasing for years. In fiscal year 2014, CBP seized 19,613 pounds of methamphetamine at ports of entry across the nation. In fiscal year 2019, that number has grown to 61,989. For Border Patrol, which seizes drugs between ports of entry, the number has similarly increased: from 3,930 in 2014 to 13,441 in 2019.
Border Patrol agents have made several big methamphetamine seizures in the past few weeks.
Agents arrested two 19-year-old women they say were attempting to smuggle 29 pounds of methamphetamine through an I-8 checkpoint on Sept. 28. Border Patrol estimated the street value of the drugs at $67,344.
Just a few days later, agents – again at the I-8 checkpoint – arrested a woman they said had 157 pounds of methamphetamines in her vehicle with her two children inside. The day before that, they arrested another mother, driving with her child through the I-8 checkpoint, who they say had 65 packages of methamphetamines stuffed in her vehicle and a spare tire.
“Smugglers again trying to use children as a decoy,” the agency tweeted, suggesting that criminal organizations appear to be using parents traveling with their children as a new tactic.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Friday that bans private prisons and immigrant detention facilities from operating in California. Here is what we know about the impact the bill will have on facilities in San Diego County.
“In GEO’s view, much if not all of AB 32 would be found unlawful by the courts,” a GEO Group spokesperson said in a statement Friday after the bill was signed, hinting at a possible court challenge to the new law. “In particular, we believe the restrictions to force a phase-out of federal detention facilities under private management run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. States cannot lawfully pass legislation mandating the closure of federal facilities that displease them on the basis of ideological differences.”
In California, the decision to end private prisons may have unintended consequences, like moving immigrants to detention facilities out of state, writes former ICE official Gary E. Mead in an op-ed for CALmatters.