Tag: Border Patrol

A Potential Border Wall Compromise

President Trump recently backed off his demand for $5 billion in funding for his border wall, likely averting a government shutdown around Christmas.  However, the political debate over funding for border wall will merely reemerge in the New Year.  Besides new court decisions regarding DACA, there is little to break this deadlock.  Some of the suggestions below offer additional avenues on which to negotiate.  

One of President Trump’s persistent claims is that the wall will secure the border and he recently implied that Border Patrol agents are substitutes for such a barrier.  In that case, I have a suggestion for Congressional Democrats who will be negotiating with the President over the wall in the next several years:  If you must fund the wall in exchange for the DREAM Act or DACA, have Border Patrol pay for it.

This idea is simple in concept – just fire Border Patrol agents and use their saved salaries to fund the construction of the border wall.  As of the middle of 2018, the 19,338 Border Patrol agents had an average annual salary of $61,064.  Altogether, they were paid about $1.18 billion in 2018.  The savings from firing all of them in one year wouldn’t come close to funding the $25 billion or so to build the entire border wall and would only go a small portion of the way toward President Trump’s more modest $5 billion request, but it’s a start.

Of course, the government should not fire all the Border Patrol agents.  Some are necessary to patrol the border even if Congress liberalizes the immigration system.  But this is Washington, DC, and politics being what it is, we all must compromise.  If Congress instead fired half of all Border Patrol agents and instituted a policy of no new net hiring, that would free up $590.4 million per year for the construction of a border wall.  In 8 years and 5 months, about $5 billion in savings could be diverted to the wall.

The Political Exploitation of Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez

Last November, Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez died in the line of duty.  At the time, it was unclear how Agent Martinez perished and many jumped to the conclusion that he was murdered.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) said Martinez was killed in “an attack.”  Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) went further, arguing that Rogelio’s death shows just how insecure the border is and that the Border Patrol needs more resources.  A spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, the union for Border Patrol agents, said that Martinez may have been bludgeoned to death by rocks.  They all jumped the gun.

Martinez’s death remains a mystery, but an FBI investigation found no evidence of an attack.  The government records all Border Patrol agent and Customs officer deaths in the line of duty.  A total of 33 Border Patrol agents died from 2003 through 2017 (Table 1).  The ratio of agents to deaths was the lowest in 2004, but more agents died in 2012.  The annual chance of a Border Patrol agent dying in the line of duty was about one in 7,968 per year during the whole period.  Only six of the 33 Border Patrol agents who died in the line of duty were murdered.  The only confirmed murder in 2017 was of Border Patrol Agent Isaac Morales.  Twenty-six died because of accidents and Rogelio’s death is still a mystery (Table 2).   

Although Border Patrol agents do sometimes die tragically, they are less likely to be murdered on the job than the average American.  Since 2003, about 1 in 43,824 Border Patrol were murdered each year while on the job.  That compares favorably to about 1 in 19,431 Americans murdered per year over the same time.   Regular Americans were more than twice as likely to be murdered in any year from 2003 through 2017 than Border Patrol agents were.

Hopefully, investigators will soon discover how Agent Rogelio Martinez actually died.  In the meantime, the political circus surrounding his tragic death should be a lesson to all public officials and unions involved: Don’t use the death of a Border Patrol agent to argue for policy changes until you have all of the facts.

 

Table 1

Border Patrol Agent Deaths Per Year

  Deaths Number of Agents Agents Per Death Percent Death
2003

1

10,717

10,717

0.009%

2004

3

10,819

3,606

0.028%

2005

0

11,264

N/A

0.000%

2006

2

12,349

6,175

0.016%

2007

4

14,923

3,731

0.027%

2008

2

17,499

8,750

0.011%

2009

3

20,119

6,706

0.015%

2010

3

20,558

6,853

0.015%

2011

2

21,444

10,722

0.009%

2012

5

21,394

4,279

0.023%

2013

0

21,394

N/A

0.000%

2014

3

20,863

6,954

0.014%

2015

0

20,273

N/A

0.000%

2016

3

19,828

6,609

0.015%

2017

2

19,500

9,750

0.010%

Total

33

262,944

7,968

0.013%

Source:  Customs and Border Protection.

Table 2

Border Patrol Agents, Cause of Death, and Year of Death, 2003-2017

Name Year Cause of Death
Rogelio Martinez 2017 Unknown (Likely Accident)
Isaac Morales 2017 Assault/Murder
David Gomez 2016 Accident (Health)
Manuel A. Alvarez 2016 Car Accident
Jose D. Barraza 2016 Car Accident
Tyler R. Robledo 2014 Car Accident
Javier Vega, Jr. 2014 Assault/Murder
Alexander I. Giannini 2014 Car Accident
David R. Delaney 2012 Accident (Health)
Nicholas J. Ivie 2012 Assault/Murder
Jeffrey Ramirez 2012 Accident (Health)
James R. Dominguez 2012 Car Accident
Leopoldo Cavazos Jr. 2012 Car Accident
Eduardo Rojas Jr. 2011 Car Accident
Hector R. Clark 2011 Car Accident
Brian A. Terry 2010 Assault/Murder
Michael V. Gallagher 2010 Car Accident
Mark F. Van Doren 2010 Car Accident
Robert W. Rosas Jr. 2009 Assault/Murder
Cruz C. McGuire 2009 Accident (Health)
Nathaniel A. Afolayan 2009 Accident (Health)
Jarod C. Dittman 2008 Car Accident
Luis Aguilar 2008 Assault/Murder
Eric Cabral 2007 Accident (Health)
Richard Goldstein 2007 Accident (Drowning)
David J. Tourscher 2007 Car Accident
Ramon Nevarez Jr. 2007 Car Accident
David N. Webb 2006 Car Accident
Nicholas D. Greenig 2006 Car Accident
George B. DeBates 2004 Car Accident
Travis W. Attaway 2004 Accident (Drowning)
Jeremy M. Wilson 2004 Accident (Drowning)
James P. Epling 2003 Accident (Drowning)

 

Source: Customs and Border Protection.

More Information Won’t Resolve Management Problems at Border Patrol Checkpoints

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report claims that, among other issues, the Border Patrol is not efficiently deploying agents to maximize the interdiction of drugs and illegal immigrants at interior checkpoints. I wrote about this here. These checkpoints are typically 25 to 100 miles inside of the United States and are part of a “defense in depth” strategy that is intended to deter illegal behavior along the border. Border Patrol is making suboptimal choices with scarce resources when it comes to enforcing laws along the border. A theme throughout the GAO report is that Border Patrol does not have enough information to efficiently manage checkpoints. Contrary to the GAO’s findings, poor institutional incentives better explain Border Patrol inefficiencies, while a lack information is a result of those incentives. More information and metrics can actually worsen Border Patrol efficiency.

Inefficient Border Patrol Deployments

Border Patrol enforces laws in a large area along the border with Mexico. They divide the border into nine geographic sectors. They further divide each sector into stations that are further subdivided into zones, some of which are “border zones” that are actually along the Mexican border while the remainder are “interior zones” that are not along the border. The GAO reports that this organization allows officials on the zone level to deploy agents in response to changing border conditions and intelligence. 

The GAO states that Headquarters deploys Border Patrol agents to border sectors based on threats, intelligence, and the flow of illegal activity. The heads of each sector then allocate agents to specific stations and checkpoints based on the above factors as well as local ones such as geography, climate, and the proximity of private property. The heads of those stations and checkpoints then assign specific shifts to each agent. The time it takes for a Border Patrol agent to respond to reported activity, their proximity to urban areas where illegal immigrants can easily blend in, and road access all factor into these deployment decisions. 

Border Patrol Agent Deaths in the Line of Duty

Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez, 36, was recently laid to rest after dying in the line of duty. The cause of his death is a mystery and the government has released few details. A spokesman for the FBI said that Martinez was “not fired upon” but Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) said Martinez was killed in “an attack.” A spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, a government union that represents Border Patrol agents, said that Martinez may have been bludgeoned to death by rocks. Another source claims that Martinez may have perished because of injuries he sustained in a fall down a culvert. More information will hopefully come forward in the coming days and weeks to clear up this mystery. Martinez’s untimely death is a tragedy regardless of the actual cause.

Many politicians, including President Trump, cited Martinez’s death as a reason for a border wall and more spending on security, but policy should rarely (if ever) be changed as a result of single incidents like these. Instead, properly analyzed data about how many Border Patrol agents are murdered in the line of duty should be a starting point so that we can at least see how deadly the occupation actually is. This information is unreported in news stories on Martinez’s death and I couldn’t find it in an online search, so I estimated it from publicly available data. The government records all Border Patrol agent and Customs officer deaths in the line of duty. I went through the deaths since 2003 and excluded Customs officers. That left 33 Border Patrol agent deaths since the formation of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in 2003 through November 19, 2017 (Table 1). More agents died in 2012 but 2004 had the highest rate of agent deaths at 0.028 percent of all Border Patrol agents or one out of every 3,606 agents on duty that year. From 2003 through 2017, the chance of a Border Patrol agent dying in the line of duty was about one in 7,968 per year.

Table 1

Border Patrol Agent Deaths Per Year

 

  Deaths Number of Agents Agents Per Death Percent Death Number of Murdered Agents Agents Per Murder
2003 1 10,717 10,717 0.009% 0 0
2004 3 10,819 3,606 0.028% 0 0
2005 0 11,264 0 0.000% 0 0
2006 2 12,349 6,175 0.016% 0 0
2007 4 14,923 3,731 0.027% 0 0
2008 2 17,499 8,750 0.011% 1 17,499
2009 3 20,119 6,706 0.015% 1 20,119
2010 3 20,558 6,853 0.015% 1 20,558
2011 2 21,444 10,722 0.009% 0 0
2012 5 21,394 4,279 0.023% 1 21,394
2013 0 21,394 0 0.000% 0 0
2014 3 20,863 6,954 0.014% 1 20,863
2015 0 20,273 0 0.000% 0 0
2016 3 19,828 6,609 0.015% 0 0
2017 2 19,500 9,750 0.010% 1 19,500
Total 33 262,944 7,968 0.013% 6 43,824

Source: Customs and Border Protection.

 

I determined the cause of death for each Border Patrol agent from the online blurbs on CBP’s website. About half of all agents who died on duty from 2003 through 2017 died in car accidents (Figure 1). About 18 percent died because of assault or murder and 18 percent due to other health-related accidents such as heart attacks or heat stroke. Most surprising, 12 percent died from drowning in accidents. I counted the death of Border Patrol agent Luis Aguilar as murder because a car driven by a suspected smuggler struck him. I counted the death of Border Patrol agent Nicholas D. Greenig as caused by a car accident because he struck a large animal with his patrol car. Agent Javier Vega Jr. was murdered while off duty but I counted his death as a result of murder because the CBP website records him as dying in the line of duty for this reason:

On September 20, 2016, it was determined that, in light of information identified during the intensive investigation completed by the Willacy County Sheriff’s Department, Agent Vega’s actions were indicative of his law enforcement training and that he instinctively reacted, placing himself in harm’s way to stop a criminal act and protect the lives of others. His death was later determined to have been in the line of duty.

Figure 1

Border Patrol Agent Cause of Death

 

Source: Customs and Border Protection.

On its surface, the death of agent Martinez seems to confirm the perception that Border Patrol agents have a dangerous job. But the danger of an occupation must be gauged in relation to the danger of other occupations or populations. About one in 7,968 Border Patrol agents died per year from 2003 through 2017. That compares favorably to all law enforcement officers who had a one in 3,924 chance of dying in the line of duty in 2011. Although incomplete data precludes an apples-to-apples comparison from 2003 through 2017, in 2011 the Border Patrol agent death rate was about one in 10,722 that year. In 2011, law enforcement officers were almost three times as likely to be killed in the line of duty as Border Patrol agents were. 

Car accidents account for about half of the deaths of Border Patrol agents during this time. Assuming that the number of 2016 and 2017 traffic fatalities across the United States are the same as they were in 2015, an American had about a one in 8,344 chance per year of dying in a traffic accident from 2003 through 2017. Border Patrol agents had a one in 16,434 annual chance of dying in a car accident from 2003 through 2017. In other words, Border Patrol agents were about half as likely to die in traffic accidents in the line of duty as Americans were in the course of their lives. A better form of this estimate would compare death rates per mile traveled but that information is not available for Border Patrol officers.

Six Border Patrol agents have been murdered in the line of duty since 2003, which means their annual chance of being murdered in the line of duty is one in 43,824. More than 238,000 Americans have been murdered since 2003 with a nationwide death rate of one in 19,431 per year. Regular Americans are more than twice as likely to be murdered in any year from 2003 through 2017 than Border Patrol agents were.

Border Patrol agents volunteered for a job that routinely places them in danger but that heightened danger does not translate into a higher chance of being murdered or dying in a car accident, when compared to all Americans, or dying in the line of duty, when compared to other law enforcement officers. Border Patrol equipment, training, and support likely explain that. The death of Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez is a tragedy but one that is thankfully rare.

Table 2

Border Patrol Agents, Cause of Death, and Year of Death, 2003-2017

Name Year Cause of Death
Rogelio Martinez 2017 Unknown (likely accident)
Isaac Morales 2017 Assault/Murder
David Gomez 2016 Accident (health)
Manuel A. Alvarez 2016 Car Accident
Jose D. Barraza 2016 Car Accident
Tyler R. Robledo 2014 Car Accident
Javier Vega, Jr. 2014 Assault/Murder
Alexander I. Giannini 2014 Car Accident
David R. Delaney 2012 Accident (health)
Nicholas J. Ivie 2012 Assault/Murder
Jeffrey Ramirez 2012 Accident (health)
James R. Dominguez 2012 Car Accident
Leopoldo Cavazos Jr. 2012 Car Accident
Eduardo Rojas Jr. 2011 Car Accident
Hector R. Clark 2011 Car Accident
Brian A. Terry 2010 Assault/Murder
Michael V. Gallagher 2010 Car Accident
Mark F. Van Doren 2010 Car Accident
Robert W. Rosas Jr. 2009 Assault/Murder
Cruz C. McGuire 2009 Accident (health)
Nathaniel A. Afolayan 2009 Accident (health)
Jarod C. Dittman 2008 Car Accident
Luis Aguilar 2008 Assault/Murder
Eric Cabral 2007 Accident (health)
Richard Goldstein 2007 Accident (drowning)
David J. Tourscher 2007 Car Accident
Ramon Nevarez Jr. 2007 Car Accident
David N. Webb 2006 Car Accident
Nicholas D. Greenig 2006 Car Accident
George B. DeBates 2004 Car Accident
Travis W. Attaway 2004 Accident (drowning)
Jeremy M. Wilson 2004 Accident (drowning)
James P. Epling 2003 Accident (drowning)

Source: Customs and Border Protection.

 Note:  This post was updated on February 15, 2018 to reflect facts from the most recent investigation into the death of Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez.

Border Patrol Checkpoints Do Not Work—End Them

Data from a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that interior checkpoints manned by Border Patrol agents are a poor use of resources, at least from an enforcement perspective. Border Patrol checkpoints would have to have apprehended about 100,000 to 120,000 more illegal immigrants from FY2013-2016 than they actually did to justify the man-hours spent occupying them by agents. Even those who support expanding immigration enforcement along the border should recognize that checkpoints are a waste of scarce border security resources. 

Border Patrol agents man checkpoints within 100 miles of the U.S. border where they can stop motorists, inquire about immigration status, and enforce other laws. Checkpoints are a significant risk to civil liberties and are expensive to run. Supporters argue that checkpoints are effective at enforcing federal laws against illegal immigration and drugs, although Border Patrol officials state that they are more concerned about the former. However, the number of illegal immigrant apprehensions, drug seizures by weight, and the deployment of Border Patrol man-hours to checkpoints show that they are not a good use of resources if the goal is to enforce immigration and drug laws.

Figure 1 comes from data reported by the GAO for FY2013-2016. About 9.4 percent of all man-hours worked by Border Patrol were at checkpoints but they only apprehended 3.1 percent of all illegal immigrants apprehended and 5.4 percent of all marijuana seized by weight, at best. At worst, Border Patrol apprehended only 1.9 percent of all illegal immigrants at checkpoints (this same number estimate is not reported for marijuana seizures). This means that Border Patrol agents would have to have apprehended 101,219 to 120,978 more illegal immigrants from FY2013-2016 at checkpoints than they actually did in order for their expenditure of man-hours to be proportional to their apprehensions. 

Border Patrol would have had to seize about 410,952 more pounds of marijuana at checkpoints from FY2013-2016 for their man-hours expenditure there to be proportional to the amount of the drug that they seized. Each unit of time that a Border Patrol agent spends at checkpoints results in fewer apprehensions and marijuana seizures than the same unit of time does spend enforcing those laws outside of checkpoints.

Figure 1

Border Patrol Man-Hours, Marijuana Seized by Weight, and Immigrant Apprehensions by Location, FY2013-2016

 

Source: Author’s Calculations from GAO.

Two Reasons Not to Hire More Border Patrol Agents

The main argument against President Trump’s plan to hire more Border Patrol agents is that the Southern border does not need them.  Even border hawks can’t argue with the evidence that Border Patrol agents are a lot less busy than they used to be.  In 1986, Border Patrol agents along the Southern border apprehended an average of 42 illegal immigrants every month.  That number fell to 2 a month by 2016 – one apprehension for every couple of weeks on the job (Figure 1).  The last month that apprehensions for all Border Patrol were above three per agent was in April 2010 and the number has steadily declined since then.  From January through September 2017, all Border Patrol agents have apprehended an average of 1.1 illegal crossers per month.  Even if you believe that the hiring spree of Border Patrol agents in recent decades stopped unlawful immigration (probably not), there is no good reason to hire more unionized government law enforcement officers to patrol a secure border.

 

Figure 1

Apprehensions Per Border Patrol Agent

Source: Customs and Border Protection.

Another good reason not to expand an expensive federal law enforcement agency that already has too little to do is that there are serious personnel and, likely, corruption issues in Border Patrol that need to be addressed first.  My recent Cato Institute Policy Analysis delved into the opaque world of corruption data in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and found lots of poorly reported and contradictory information.  Fortunately, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) does report the number of terminations by reason per occupation per agency.  Although OPM doesn’t specifically identify corruption, a termination for discipline or performance includes those terminated for corruption – as well as other issues.  The results were worse than I suspected: Border Patrol agents were the most likely to be terminated for poor discipline and bad performance than law enforcement officers in any other large federal law enforcement agency (Figure 2).  The second most likely to be terminated were Customs Officers.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were the fourth most likely. 

 

Figure 2

Termination Rate for Law Enforcement Officers by Federal Agency, 2006-2016

 

Sources: Office of Personnel Management, “FedScope Separations Cube, Fiscal 2006-2016”; and Office of Personnel Management, “FedScope Employment Cube, Fiscal Years 2006-2016.” Published in “Border Patrol Termination Rates: Discipline and Performance Problems Signal Need for Reform,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis, November 2, 2017.

Note: BOP = Bureau of Prisons; BP = Border Patrol; CBP-OFO = Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations; DEA = Drug Enforcement Administration; FBI = Federal Bureau of Investigation; ICE = Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

All in all, Border Patrol agents were twice as likely to be terminated for disciplinary infractions or poor performance as ICE agents and 49 percent more likely than CBP officers who work in the Office of Field Operations, from 2006 through 2016. Border Patrol agents were 54 percent more likely than guards at the Bureau of Prisons to be terminated for disciplinary infractions or poor performance, 6 times as likely as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, 7.1 times as likely as Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and 12.9 times as likely as Secret Service agents. 

The lack of effective internal affairs at Border Patrol and CBP is a major reason for these problems.  There is some positive movement on Capitol Hill to address the lack of sufficient internal affairs at Border Patrol and CBP, but it is unfortunately tied to a massive and unnecessary expansion of the force itself.  Severe discipline and performance problems combined with a historic slowdown in the number of illegal immigrant border crossers are two excellent reasons not to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents.

99.7% of All Migration Is Legal

Complaints about illegal immigration are constant and repetitive.  They’re sowing chaos along the border, using welfare, taking American jobs, and their mere presence is destroying respect for the law.  Some oppose legalizing any illegal immigrants until the border is secure.

Good news: The border is secure and it has been for a long time.

99.7 percent of all people who successfully enter the United States do so legally (Figure 1).  Whether as a tourist, guest worker, or refugee, the vast majority of all admissions to the United States have been legal from 2003 through 2015.  A mere 0.3 percent of all entries to the United States during that time were illegal.  The big red arrow on Figure 1 points to where illegal entries peaked in 2004 at 0.42 percent of all entries.  The last year for which data is available, 2015, provides evidence that illegal entries are falling as 99.81 percent of all admissions were legal while only 0.19 percent were illegal. 

Figure 1

All Legal and Illegal Admissions into the United States

Sources: DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics and Center for Migration Studies.

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