Abusing Border Patrol Agents: The New Vietnam?

October 7, 2019 Updated: October 8, 2019


Conditions in many immigrant detention centers are deplorable. There are simply too many detainees compared to the number of available jail cells. Overcrowding inevitably causes suffering.

Even Americans who favor deporting people who sneaked into our country illegally shouldn’t want to inflict suffering upon them. Heaven knows, many of them came here to escape suffering, and some of them will be returned to harsh, hopeless conditions. Out of simple compassion and decency, let’s try not to add to their misery.

To correct the status quo requires addressing the causes of the overcrowding. The causes include:

  • The too-large number of people entering the country illegally. President Donald Trump wants to shrink that number by improving border security, but the Democrat-controlled House has resisted such initiatives.
  • There aren’t enough detention centers to accommodate detainees. Congress appropriates insufficient funds to alleviate this shortage.
  • According to Freedom for Immigrants, 30 percent of immigrants are incarcerated for longer than one month, and some for multiple years because they are unable to obtain a quick adjudication of their cases, and so the backlog piles up in detention centers.

One important commonality to those three causes is this: Border Patrol agents haven’t caused the problem. Why, then, do some Americans vilify them for a lamentable situation not of their making?

Vietnam War Parallels

We are seeing a reemergence of some ugly behavior that erupted during the Vietnam War half a century ago. At that time, some U.S. leftists disrespected and abused U.S. servicemen returning from Vietnam. Having risked their lives, served in hellish conditions, and seen friends killed while serving their country, U.S. GIs were shunned, spat upon, and slandered with vile epithets like “baby killer.”

It was monstrously unfair and cruel to vent antiwar sentiment against GIs who weren’t responsible for getting us into that war. Just so, it’s unfair today for open-immigration advocates and anti-Trump partisans to blame and abuse Border Patrol agents. Sadly, that’s happening far too often. Judgmental, holier-than-thou zealots are heaping abuse on agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In a recent, informative New York Times report, “People Actively Hate Us: Inside the Border Patrol’s Morale Crisis,” the four co-authors recounted incidents of Border Patrol agents being called “kid killer.” Their spouses and children have been subjected to cutting, derogatory remarks. There have been death threats.

Earlier this summer, an Antifa fanatic tried to sabotage or destroy an ICE facility in Tacoma, Washington. In Texas, shots were fired at two separate ICE facilities. These are not happy (nor safe) days for Americans enforcing our immigration laws.

As was the case during the Vietnam War, the most overt hostility toward the loyal Americans carrying out a controversial government policy comes from overtly leftist circles. A writer for Left Voice magazine ranted that ICE is run by “right-wing fanatics” comparable to the Nazi Gestapo. That is dishonest, if not demented.

ICE agents arrests people who have violated our laws, not citizens who happen to be of the “wrong” ethnicity. Under the Gestapo, prisoners were starved, subjected to slave labor, and executed. There is no basis for comparing ICE with such fiends. Perhaps fantasizing about revolution, the writer proclaims, “We have the power … to storm the camps, and to free the people imprisoned there.” I’ll bet you a quarter that the writer won’t risk his own neck by participating in an attack. It’s much safer and more fun being a cowardly agent provocateur behind the scenes.

A writer for another leftist publication called Jacobin rips our Border Patrol by equating U.S. law enforcement officials with Hitler’s SS and characterizing detention centers as concentration camps. With breathtaking presumption, he asserted that the CBP isn’t “a place where good people do bad things, but where bad people do bad things.”

Like their ruthless namesakes (the original Jacobins, led by Robespierre, engaged in the mass murder of opponents—in the name of justice and brotherhood, of course), today’s Jacobin writer favors a scorched-earth policy, condemning all Border Patrol personnel en masse. In doing so, he illustrates a glaring double standard on the left. Leftists rightly denounce stupid prejudice, such as, “Every [insert a skin color] person is bad.” Before condemning CBP employees wholesale, he should read The New York Times’s account of compassionate Border Patrol agents who bring detained children toys.

Appeal for Compassion

Perhaps the most infamous abuse of Border Patrol personnel are when hypocritical, opportunistic members of Congress show up at a detention center for a quick photo op, denounce the poor job “the Gestapo” is doing at its overcrowded, underfunded “concentration camps,” and then fly back to Washington and refuse to appropriate funds to improve conditions for both detainees and Border Patrol personnel.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a distinctive partisan element to this tactic. Democratic members of Congress have excoriated the Trump administration for deporting large numbers of immigrants, even though there were significantly more such deportations during the Obama administration. Indeed, Team Obama was highly secretive about immigrants under its control.

I’d like to close with an appeal to all Americans: Please, please, don’t take out your frustrations with our dysfunctional immigration policy on Border Patrol personnel. If you are on the left, have as much compassion for those trying to uphold our immigration laws as you have for those who have violated those laws. Don’t condemn all of them because some act inappropriately. Don’t judge them without walking a mile in their shoes.

While the work is not as dangerous as that of our GIs in Vietnam, Border Patrol work is taxing (long, lonely vigils in intense desert heat on some days; trying to tend to masses of strangers with insufficient resources on other days); stressful (more than 100 CBP personnel committed suicide from 2007 to 2018); and dangerous (some undocumented immigrants are hardened criminals; a Border Patrol agent was shot just last month).

Border Patrol agents are in the middle of the immigrant detention problem, but they are neither the cause of the problem nor in a position to fix it. Let’s not blame them, and let’s definitely not mistreat them. Let’s not do what was done to our GIs five decades ago. That just isn’t fair.

Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith & Freedom.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.