One Border Patrol agent in Tucson said he had been called a “sellout” and a “kid killer.” In El Paso, an agent said he and his colleagues in uniform had avoided eating lunch together except at certain “BP friendly” restaurants because “there’s always the possibility of them spitting in your food.” An agent in Arizona quit last year out of frustration. “Caging people for a nonviolent activity,” he said, “started to eat away at me.”
For decades, the Border Patrol was a largely invisible security force. Along the southwestern border, its work was dusty and lonely. Between adrenaline-fueled chases, the shells of sunflower seeds piled up outside the windows of their idling pickup trucks. Agents called their slow-motion specialty “laying in” — hiding in the desert and brush for hours, to wait and watch, and watch and wait.
Two years ago, when President Trump entered the White House with a pledge to close the door on illegal immigration, all that changed. The nearly 20,000 agents of the Border Patrol became the leading edge of one of the most aggressive immigration crackdowns ever imposed in the United States.
No longer were they a quasi-military organization tasked primarily with intercepting drug runners and chasing smugglers. Their new focus was to block and detain hundreds of thousands of migrant families fleeing violence and extreme poverty — herding people into tents and cages, seizing children and sending their parents to jail, trying to spot those too sick to survive in the densely packed processing facilities along the border.
It's just heart-rending, isn't it.
Ten migrants have died since September in the custody of the Border Patrol and its parent agency, Customs and Border Protection.
In recent months, the extreme overcrowding on the border has begun to ease, with migrants turned away and made to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed. Last week, the Supreme Court allowed the administration to close the door further, at least for now, by requiring migrants from countries outside Mexico to show they have already been denied refuge in another country before applying for asylum.
The Border Patrol, whose agents have gone from having one of the most obscure jobs in law enforcement to one of the most hated, is suffering a crisis in both mission and morale. Earlier this year, the disclosure of a private Facebook group where agents posted sexist and callous references to migrants and the politicians who support them reinforced the perception that agents often view the vulnerable people in their care with frustration and contempt.
Interviews with 25 current and former agents in Texas, California and Arizona — some conducted on the condition of anonymity so the agents could speak more candidly — paint a portrait of an agency in a political and operational quagmire. Overwhelmed through the spring and early summer by desperate migrants, many agents have grown defensive, insular and bitter.
The president of the agents’ union said he had received death threats. An agent in South Texas said some colleagues he knew were looking for other federal law enforcement jobs. One agent in El Paso told a retired agent he was so disgusted by scandals in which the Border Patrol has been accused of neglecting or mistreating migrants that he wanted the motto emblazoned on its green-and-white vehicles — “Honor First” — scratched off.
Honor among jackbooted thugs and all.
I have zero sympathy for the folks actively working to be Donald Trump's white supremacist paramilitary police. You have a choice, and that choice is helping the rest of us get rid of the bastard, or stay with him and face the consequences of that choice.
Rounding up kids and families for semi-permanent detention is repugnant. You can stop at anytime and resign, you know.
Of course, the people working for Trump never will.