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June 1999, Volume 6, Number 6

INS: Border Patrol, Sanctions

Border Patrol. The Border Patrol had its 75th anniversary on May 28, 1999; it was founded in 1924 as an agency of the US Department of Labor. Over the years, its budget has grown from $1 million to $3 billion.

The number of Border Patrol agents doubled between 1993 and 1999, to about 8,000, and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner did not request additional agents in the FY2000 budget, despite a provision of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibilities Act requiring INS to hire 1,000 new Border Patrol agents a year until 2001. On May 12, 1999, 61 members of Congress sent a letter to President Clinton protesting the decision not to hire more agents in FY00. One study estimated that the INS needs 16,000 agents to control the US-Mexican border.

Meissner defended the decision not to hire more agents by noting that "nearly 40 percent" of Border Patrol agents in 1999 had less than two years' experience. The rapid expansion mandated by IIRIRA, she argued, makes it hard to maintain quality, especially in a full-employment economy. Border Patrol agents, whose entry-level pay is $24,000 a year, receive 4.5 months or 744 hours of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in southeastern Georgia. After one year, agents average $34,000 a year with overtime.

The average age of new recruits is 26. About one-third are Hispanics: all Border Patrol graduates of the training academy must speak Spanish.

Congressman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), a former Border Patrol chief in El Paso, proposed that the Border Patrol be separated from the INS in a newly created Justice Department agency, the Bureau of Border Enforcement. Under the Reyes plan, the new bureau would include the Border Patrol's law-enforcement mission plus the INS's law-enforcement work at ports of entry. Reyes said "We can not afford to have such a large agency, receiving basically a blank check from Congress, that has failed." Under the Reyes plan, the INS would become an immigration services agency.

It was Reyes who in 1993 launched Operation Hold the Line, a strategy to discourage illegal immigrants from entering the US rather than apprehending them after they crossed the border. This strategy called for fences, lights and more agents visible along the border. Although controversial at the time, this strategy is now the major method of controlling the border.

The best-known example of the INS's deterrence strategy is Operation Gatekeeper, the term given to Border Patrol operations on the Mexican-US border south of San Diego. Gatekeeper in 1994 began to deter entries with more agents, walls and floodlights, and has been deemed a success. However, the Los Angeles Times reported that Border Patrol agents are bored, since the deterrence strategy requires that they "sit on an X" every quarter mile and survey the border. Some agents refer to themselves as "human scarecrows." In a little-noticed change, Mexico now cooperates with the Border Patrol by preventing crowds from gathering on the Mexican side of the border.

Apprehensions in the San Diego area have fallen from 500 a day in 1994 to fewer than 50 a day in 1999, and the Border Patrol believes that it is apprehending almost all migrants attempting entry. However, apprehensions in Arizona are increasing, as smugglers attempt to bring migrants across the desert. There are predictions of tragedy this summer, as migrants attempt to enter the US illegally through desert and mountain areas. Since Operation Gatekeeper began in 1994, 366 illegal immigrants have died attempting to enter California, 140 of them in 1998.

The GAO notes that "evaluative data on the overall impact of the [deterrence] strategy continue to be limited," but several expected effects are noticeable, including the shifting of attempted entries to Arizona, more aliens attempting fraudulent entry at ports of entry, and higher fees being charged by smugglers. GAO said it is not possible to evaluate recidivism.

Mexican cities across the border with Arizona are booming, as smugglers shift their operations. Agua Prieta, for example, had six small hotels and 60,000 residents in the mid-1990s. Today, it has 120,000 residents, 16 hotels with a total of 500 rooms and numerous safe houses from which an estimated 100 smugglers operate. There are often 3,000 people in the city's plaza seeking a way to get into the US; one man complained of being captured three times by the Border Patrol in one week.

Local residents complain that taxi service is oriented to taking migrants to the border, and that crime has risen as unsuccessful migrants seek money to make another attempt to enter the US. Agua Prieta residents say that buses to the interior of Mexico are typically empty, while buses from the interior are full. The US has been returning an average 20,000 apprehended Mexicans a month to Agua Prieta. The Border Trade Alliance says that people in southern Arizona "Unfortunately... equate NAFTA with illegal immigration."

The INS has established checkpoints on highways leading from the border area, prompting complaints from US citizens and legal immigrants that their Fourth Amendment protections from unlawful searches and seizures are being violated. An organization has been formed in Arizona, Citizens United for Rights on the Border, to limit questioning at checkpoints, and CURB has erected signs on private property near Border Patrol highway checkpoints spelling out citizens' rights and providing a toll-free telephone number for help in filing formal complaints.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in May 1999 ruled 2-1 that Border Patrol agents can consider ethnicity when they make traffic stops in US border areas. Two Hispanic men with Mexican license plates turned around when they saw the INS checkpoint and were stopped by the Border Patrol, which found two bags of marijuana. The men contended that they were targeted because they were Hispanic, but the court said that ethnicity could be one factor in deciding whether to stop and search someone in US border areas. For more information: http://www.law.vill.edu/Fed-Ct/ca09.html />
Federal courts have found that searches of travelers at international borders do not violate the Fourth Amendment and that probable cause is not required to justify a stop or search. Congress has given Border Patrol agents broad authority to conduct searches within a "reasonable distance" from the border, defined by the Immigration and Naturalization Service as 100 miles.

The Border Patrol is investigating an incident four miles west of Calexico in which a Border Patrol agent fired at a raft carrying three illegal migrants with a pellet gun and then threw the weapon into the river. A witness said that only two of the illegal migrants made it to shore. The agent has allegedly admitted to the shooting and has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Sanctions. Filiberto's, a chain of Mexican restaurants based in Phoenix, agreed in April 1999 to pay a $2 million fine, "the biggest fine for a work site enforcement case in US history," according to the INS. In 1997, nearly 200 illegal immigrants were arrested when the INS raided 15 Filiberto's restaurants.

Two Massachusetts janitorial firms, System Management Inc. of Lawrence, and Forget Me Not Services of Wilmington, sued Aid Maintenance Inc. of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, alleging that Aid Maintenance was able to underbid them and win cleaning jobs because it hired undocumented workers and paid them sub-standard wages. The INS in 1992 found that 38 percent of the SSNs on Aid Maintenance I-9 forms were false.

Five Sacramento-area companies are enrolled in the INS voluntary Basic Pilot program, in which employers check information provided by new hires against INS and Social Security Administration databases. One participating company, Excel Specialty Products, a meat-packing plant owned by Cargill with 225 employees in Marysville, California, reported that it had detected no unauthorized workers applying for jobs in the nine months since it began the checks.

The INS reports that, as of May 1999, some 1,826 companies, some with multiple sites, are enrolled in Basic Pilot in the six states where it has been established-- California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas and Nebraska. Employers who volunteer to participate receive software and training at no charge; INS provides enrollment information at (888) 464-4218.


Ken Ellingwood, "Patrolling Along Border Gets 'Boring' for Agents," Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1999. William Branigin, "Border Patrol Being Pushed to Continue Fast Growth," Washington Post, May 13, 1999. Dane Schiller, "Texas Congressman Wants to Split Border Patrol from INS," San Antonio Express-News, May 13, 1999. General Accounting Office. 1999. Illegal Immigration: Status of Southwest Border Strategy Implementation. GAO/GGD-99-44. May 19.