THE BROWNSVILLE HERALD
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner admits that the threat of Mexican drug cartels trying to infiltrate the government agency by attempting to corrupt the federal agents is all too real. Alan D. Bersin, commissioner of CBP in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said he “recognizes there are bad apples in the barrel” and the government is doing everything it can to track down corrupt officers and bring them to justice.
Bersin made the statement Thursday in Washington at a hearing before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The hearing pertained to border corruption and what the federal agencies are doing to prevent and address it.
As of 2004, 127 CBP officers had been convicted of corruption, Bersin said, adding the agency takes every allegation seriously. Several of the officers who were convicted were stationed at the ports of entry in South Texas. “We pride ourselves on being a family. However, when one of our own strays into criminality we do not forgive him or her,” Bersin said. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has nearly 60,000 law enforcement officers and support staff deployed along the U.S. borders. Bersin stated that officers work under dangerous conditions and in an environment that is vulnerable to corruption, especially along the southwestern border. “CBP employees have and will continue to be targeted by criminal organizations. … As we continue to see successes in our efforts to secure our nation’s borders, our adversaries continue to grow more desperate in their attempt to smuggle humans and illegal contraband into this country,” Bersin said.
The federal agency, along with the Office of Inspector General of DHS, said the implementation of the Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010 should help them trace corrupt officers. The act requires that all new CBP and U.S. Border Patrol applicants undergo polygraph tests before being hired. The act also calls for periodic background reinvestigation checks for all of its law enforcement personnel. Bersin admitted there is a backlog of 15,197 periodic reinvestigations and that the agency is doing its best to address the issue. Charles K. Edwards, acting inspector general of the DHS, said the smuggling of people and goods across the border is big business for organized criminal organizations, and that drug trafficking organizations have turned to recruiting and corrupting DHS employees. “The Mexican drug cartels today are more sophisticated and dangerous than any other organized criminal group. They use torture and brutality to control their members and intimidate or eliminate those that may be witnesses or informants to their activities,” Edwards said.
The DHS Office of Inspector General currently has 1,036 open investigations of allegations involving Customs and Border Protection. Of that number, 613 involve named employees, 402 unknown employees and 21 nonemployees, the agency reports. Of the 613 named employees, 267 are being investigated for corruption; 209 for suspicious behavior; 68 for civil rights violations; and 69 for other reasons. Edwards said border corruption puts national security at risk and that corrupt border agents could unknowingly be allowing into the U.S. terrorists or weapons that could cause massive harm. “A corrupt DHS employee may accept a bribe for allowing what appears to be undocumented aliens into the U.S. while unwittingly helping terrorists enter the country. Likewise, what seems to be drug contraband could be weapons of mass destruction,” Edwards said. He added, “It is the OIG policy to investigate all allegations of corruption of DHS employees or compromise of systems related to the security of our borders.”