BOULEVARD, Calif.—Morale among U.S Border Patrol agents has hit rock bottom, according to agents and union representatives in California and Arizona.
Darren Bird, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council union, Local 1613, San Diego, told The Epoch Times that with the recent surge of illegal immigrants, agents believe that they’re essentially breaking the laws they were once trained to enforce.
“We’re acting as alien smugglers now,” he said. “We’re doing what we were trained not to do. We’re basically guilty of alien smuggling. We’re furthering their illegal entrance into the country.
More than a half-dozen agents in California and Arizona who spoke to The Epoch Times on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation agree morale has plummeted after what they call three years of lax border policies by the Biden administration.
“Mayorkas is trying to send us what we are referring to as hush money. He’s giving us administrative leave days here and there, like for Christmas we got two days of free leave, basically and that’s been happening since Thanksgiving of 2021,” he said.
He said some agents are having to drive more than 120 miles round trip from their homes to processing centers, up to a month at a time.
“Nobody likes their job,” he said. “That takes a toll on you. Everybody is using their leave.”
Agents must do what they’re told even if that means “babysitting, transporting, and processing” illegal immigrants, or face discipline, he said.
Human Smuggling and Agents’ Mental HealthEven with lax border policies that allow illegal immigrants to surrender to Border Patrol agents and stay in the United States, human smuggling remains a problem in San Diego County, he said.
And, he said, agents are having trouble reconciling that they have been ordered to do exactly what they were trained not to do and what was once considered a crime: aiding and abetting human smuggling.
As a result, some have struggled with mental health issues and suicide. Between 2007 and 2022, Customs and Border Protection lost 149 people to suicide and has “among the highest rates” of suicide compared to other law enforcement agencies, according to Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas).
In 2022, 14 agents took their own lives, more than in any other year since U.S. Customs and Border Protection began tracking such deaths, he said.
Recently, one motel employee in the region told The Epoch Times it isn’t unusual for illegal immigrants to evade agents or flee encampments to nearby border towns, even after they’re apprehended at the border wall.
The woman, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said she spent three years in a federal prison in Texas after being convicted years ago of aiding and abetting the smuggling of illegal aliens into California.
She was a passenger in the front seat when the driver of the car tried to evade border patrol agents at a checkpoint, accidentally rolling the vehicle and killing one of three illegal immigrant passengers in the back seat, she said.
Asked why she did it, the woman said the cartel guías, or “guides,” were paying about $3,500 per head to transport illegal migrants northward once they crossed the border.
“I was young and stupid,” she said.
The woman said she doesn’t know what the going rates are for human smuggling these days, stressing she “doesn’t want to know.”
When Americans pick up illegal immigrants at or near the border, “that’s considered alien smuggling ... if they’re furthering their entrance into the country, they have knowledge that they are doing so, and there is a financial gain involved,” Mr. Bird said. “That’s happening.”
But, when family or friends already in the country pick up illegal immigrants from the camps—and aren’t being paid to do so—the case for smuggling “is gone” because there’s no financial gain, he said.
Illegal ImmigrationTotal U.S. apprehensions of illegal and inadmissible aliens in fiscal year 2022-23—from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30, 2023—were 3.2 million. In fiscal year 2021-22, such were more than 2.7 million, and counting “known gotaways”—those whom Border Patrol agents record but don’t catch—more than 8 million illegal immigrants have entered the country in less than three years.
Immigrants Leave CampAfter spending the night outside when temperatures dropped to the low 40s, about 200 of 400 illegal immigrants on Jan. 4 walked out of one camp south of Boulevard and headed into town in defiance of Border Patrol, said Gabriele Schultz, who, along with her family, works with Border Kindness, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that helps feed illegal migrants at camps.
The immigrants wandered around town asking merchants and residents for water and where they could charge their cellphones, she said.
“I saw them crying. I cried with them,” she said. “They were hanging on our car.”
The illegal immigrants left the camp unprocessed and vanished before patrol agents could respond. They simply got restless and walked into town, Mr. Bird later confirmed.
“It was really cold. There [were] a lot of them out there, and they got tired of waiting. They just started walking,” he said. “A lot of them get picked up. They call people they know, people who are already here ... so they just fall off the system.”
Sam Schultz, Gabriele’s husband, said in December 2023 that the latest surge of illegal immigrants had lasted for 11 weeks and that he had been working 10-hour days to keep up with the demand for food and water. The surge continued for another four weeks, when it suddenly subsided in the new year.
He criticized federal policies that encourage “asylum seekers” to cross the border illegally through gaps in the border wall rather than claiming asylum at U.S. ports of entry.
“They could change this tomorrow by a decision at the Cabinet level to allow asylum seekers to go through ports of entry,” he said.
The crisis continues because the migrants let their friends and family know they made it to the United States and that the illegal backdoor system of immigration works, he said.
“They call home and they say, ‘Guess what? It worked.’ That’s it. Simple as that, and social media is ubiquitous,” Mr. Schultz said. “Eighty percent of these people will be out on the street in three days, and they’re going to call home.”
The relationship between the Border Patrol and NGOs is one of mutual necessity but not necessarily one of mutual respect, Mr. Bird said.
“The NGOs are a necessary evil to us. They can create some issues with our operations,” he said. “They don’t appreciate us. They think that we’re doing something wrong, but our hands are tied.”
Agents have to follow directives to leave illegal immigrants at the camps when there is no room for them at processing facilities, he said.
“They think that’s our fault,” he said. “We’re just the bad guys because we can’t house them all at one time comfortably.”
Illegal Immigrants ‘Impatient’Mr. Bird says that by the time they enter the United States, illegal immigrants are anxious to reach their final destinations to meet friends and families and often complain about being held back at the camps or being detained for processing.
Many have a sense of entitlement, according to Mr. Bird and other agents.
“They just crossed the border illegally and then they want to know how long it will take to be released,” Mr. Bird said, shaking his head. “That’s the first thing they always ask. ... They get impatient and want us to hurry it along.”
Under current border policies, most know they’ll eventually be released freely into the United States “unless there is some exigent circumstance, like they’re on a terrorist watch list, or they have severe criminal history from their country,” he said.
Several suspected terrorists on the FBI’s terror watch list have crossed the border near Boulevard recently. One is most likely a high-profile terrorist because an alert “popped up” on agents’ phones about a month ago leading to the suspect’s arrest.
Mexico ReactsWhile it’s common for the Mexican National Guard to patrol the border, the Mexican military stepped up operations in early January, according to Mr. Bird.
“Usually, they’ll try to ‘disrupt’ the illegal border crossings,” he said facetiously, pointing out that the Mexican military uses the same radios as the cartels, so they each know what the other is doing.
“They’re definitely in cahoots with each other, and they’ll drive past each other,” he said. “There’s no way that they’re all clean. It always happens. We’ll see the Mexican military show up and then the smugglers won’t be there, and the second the Mexican military leaves, the smugglers will be back.”
‘Secret Deal’?Todd Bensman, a senior fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and former counterterrorism intelligence officer, wrote in a Jan. 17 article published on the organization’s website: “Nothing in the American experience has ever compared to the 10,000 to 14,000 illegal crossings every day the last several months that afflicted major American cities or those poor federal government souls who must manage the U.S. southern border.”
He said President Joe Biden and the Mexican president may have arranged “an out-of-view crackdown that could endure through the U.S. presidential election and serve them both politically.”
He is less popular than the past three presidents were at the same point in their presidencies, according to Feb. 6 data from Real Clear Politics.
The Biden administration is playing political hardball and using classic “Soviet-era” tactics and propaganda to keep the American people in the dark about “the deal,” Mr. Bensman said.
“It’s a shameful episode in U.S. history,” he said.
Mexican authorities “for the first time in three years policing the rail yards,” blocked immigrants from getting on freight trains headed northward, and rousted those who were already on them, Mr. Bensman said. And, he said, Mexico blocked northbound migrants on public roads, deporting them by air to other countries, such as Venezuela and Cuba.
And, at a Jan. 5 press conference, the Mexican president asked the Biden administration for $20 billion to address the root causes of migration in Latin American and Caribbean countries, as well as 10 million visas for illegal immigrants so they can legally work and remain in the United States. He also wants the United States to suspend its embargo against Cuba and nix sanctions against Venezuela.
Border SecurityIn a Jan. 26 statement, President Biden promised to shut down the border “when it becomes overwhelmed” if Congress passes a bipartisan border security bill.
But, the bill is tied to $118 billion in aid to funding Ukraine and Israel for foreign wars, which created partisan political gridlock.
“For too long, we all know the border’s been broken. It’s long past time to fix it,” he said. “What’s been negotiated would—if passed into law—be the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve ever had in our country. It would give me, as President, a new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed. And if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law.”
The same day, House Speaker Mike Johnson informed Republican colleagues in a letter that the Senate’s deal on the issue was “dead on arrival,” with Republicans balking at the amount of money being sent to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, wrote on Truth Social: “I do not think we should do a Border Deal, at all, unless we get EVERYTHING needed to shut down the INVASION of Millions & Millions of people.”
On Feb. 6, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mr. Johnson stated that a border security bill wouldn’t pass, and President Trump has said he is opposed to the proposed deal, which would allow 5,000 illegal immigrants into the United States every day.