Even in the best of times, it's not easy being a federal officer who enforces the immigration laws, whether a border patrol agent, an inspector, or an interior enforcement agent. The work is gritty, often dangerous, sometimes heart-rending, and your job plants you right in the middle of the great divide of political and public opinion, as a result of which you constantly hear that you're not doing enough, or that you're doing too much, or that you're focusing on the wrong stuff. That's in the best of times.
These aren't the best of times for immigration agents. They work in an administration-engendered environment of job fear, muffled into silence as they watch immigration enforcement dismantled around them by a president and cabinet who wouldn't know the Constitution if they were wrapped in it. Government-sponsored workforce surveys have shown morale among the immigration components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be in a sinkhole for the past several years.
Sometimes — not very often, really, given the working conditions and circumstances — an officer succumbs to temptation from individual aliens or from gangs plying the border or operating in our cities, and looks the other way. It can be from greed; it can be from misplaced motives; it can be from a sense that no one cares about fair and even-handed immigration enforcement, so what difference does it make if I cheat a little when the big guys are turning the entire system into pulled pork? That's why having watchdogs over law enforcement officers is necessary. In modern government, that generally falls to respective departments' inspectors general (IG), including DHS.
To be the subject of an IG investigation is gut-wrenching. While it's going on, your career is stalled or put into reverse, your colleagues avoid you, and your supervisors sideline you and look on you with suspicion. This is what happens before the investigation is concluded. When exonerated, officers receive a letter that reads something like this: "We have been unable to sustain the allegations made in the complaint and are closing the investigation." Unable to sustain — not "there was no merit". It's small wonder that exonerated officers don't always fully recover from the experience in either the professional or personal sense; they see their job, their colleagues, and their bosses in a new and jaded light.
This is why the integrity of IG offices and their agents is paramount. Unfortunately, the DHS IG's office has been a swamp of irregularities in the past few years, starting at the top and, apparently, working its way down to the front-line troops — the "point of the spear". One of those spear points is the IG field office in Brownsville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley (which received the brunt of the recent months-long "surge" of tens of thousands of Central Americans, courtesy of the administration's misguided policies).
The Brownsville Herald ran a story a few days ago telling us that a supervisor and at least two other IG agents in that office engaged in outright fraud, fabricating a variety of stories about their productivity and investigations in progress, and then hiding the fraud during an internal inspection. The supervisor and one agent went to jail; the third got a pass in return for testifying against them.
The thing is, this isn't just about productivity. If you read the article, you will see the stories they told had an adverse impact on the lives of dozens of hardworking, honest border agents struggling to deal with abysmal working conditions imposed by the surge. "Pedraza [the supervisor] was found guilty of directing special agent Marco Rodriguez, who was initially charged in the indictment, to forge memorandums of activity on two cases, one alleging a prisoner was working with a Border Patrol agent to move drugs and immigrants into the United States and another about an unknown CBP officer accused of helping pregnant Mexican women get into the country to give birth." (Emphasis added.)
There is little doubt that these fake activity memos worked their way up the chain to IG headquarters, where they would have gone laterally to CBP (Customs and Border Protection) headquarters as an alert about corrupt activity among the border agent and inspector ranks in the Rio Grande Valley. Virtually the entire corps of officers would have been under suspicion and distrusted by their superiors, whether they knew it or not.
It's a good thing that the criminal activities of these disgraced IG agents finally came out, but in fundamental ways, the damage that was done cannot be undone. Nearly two thousand years ago, the Roman poet Juvenal posed the famous question, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes ("Who will guard the guards themselves?"). The question remains relevant today.