Border Agency Corruption and the Need for Reform

Los Angeles Times article stated last week that from October 2004-2010, 132 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees have been indicted or convicted on corruption-related charges. The reasons given for these incidents occurring are an uncontrolled departmental expansion of the CBP and negligence while performing background checks.

For an agency that has not even been around for a decade, that is a high number of arrested employees, especially for the same type of charges. Steps need to be taken to fix these problems in CBP so that we can not only fix our reputation of having corrupt governmental bodies, but also discourage criminals from trying to enter our nation with their contraband.

One background inspector noted, “Whenever there's a big fluctuation in hiring, it puts a real strain on the selection process and background investigations involved.” Background checks are not supposed to be fast; they are supposed to be thorough. Yet, when the turnaround for an applicant is 294 days, it is hard to not want to take shortcuts. Other inspectors mentioned how some outside contractors who perform these background checks are paid by the number completed, which only incentivizes speed and shortcuts over comprehensive checks. The CBP already has low standards when it comes to hiring – you don’t even need a high school diploma to apply – but a government agency should not be using outside contractors to complete the decisive part of the hiring process when national security could be at stake.

The chief mission of the CBP is to watch out for terrorist activity and prevent terrorists from entering into the country. America is fortunate that these CBP arrests were for corruption and not plots of terrorism or other violent crimes that could have endangered Americans. These employees were arrested for allowing smugglers and human traffickers into the country with drugs, contraband, and undocumented immigrants. The primary motivation for these corrupt employees was greed. But an equally important motivator was family. Many of the arrested (and convicted) CBP employees let their relatives conduct illegal activities in their border towns and sought financial gain in return for turning a blind eye.

There needs to exist intra-departmental policy that better defines and supports the agency so that it can hire more qualified people and become more successful as a whole. This means explicitly defining the hiring procedure and increasing the prerequisites for application.

Another way to reduce the number of corrupt individuals that are hired is to limit governmental discretion – the amount that one can deviate from the rules and policies of the agency. This can be accomplished by increasing support and the size of the inspector general’s office to better access these practices.

The CBP is under the authority and supervision of the Department of Homeland Security, and despite both their youthful existences as far as government bureaucracies go, steps can be taken to prevent massive influxes of hiring and departmental negligence.

The worst part about corruption is that its detrimental effects are widespread. The CBP arrests are another reason why so many Americans are in favor of installing a giant, expensive border fence. Instead of seeing this case of government misdeed as a way to promote immigration policy reform, too many of us are viewing it as an excuse to shut out the American Dream to more people. 

Photo Credit: Octavian Cosma

Previously this article stated that there were 870 CBP arrests made. The correct number is 132.