In a recent op-ed in The Hill, James Tomsheck, former head of the Office of Internal Affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) lays out in detail why House and Senate efforts to weaken CBP hiring standards by waiving the polygraph test for certain applicants is a bad idea. Mr. Tomsheck has spent 40 years in law enforcement and knows firsthand how important it is to ensure that those hired by CBP are people with integrity. One of the tools used to measure integrity and suitability for a position with CBP is a polygraph test. Toward that end, he states, “The cases that most disturb me are people who applied to work at CBP – the country’s largest law enforcement agency – and admitted in the screening process to committing serious criminal offenses, including drug smuggling, rape, and infanticide, or confessed to seeking employment as infiltrators paid by transnational criminal organizations or cartels.” He continues, “We would not have caught hundreds of these applicants without a polygraph examination.” (emphasis added)
There is no shortage of stories about CBP officers who, despite passing a polygraph, still went on to be arrested for corruption. Mr. Tomsheck states that nearly 200 CBP agents and officers have been arrested for corruption since October 2004. For example, in December 2015, a CBP officer who had arrested, a Honduran female and two minors (ages 15 and 14), bound and raped them repeatedly before he was caught and killed himself. In July 2016, two sisters, ages 19 and 17, lost their way while traveling to the United States from Guatemala, and encountered CBP officers after crossing the Texas-Chihuahua border. They asked for help and were taken to a CBP field office in Presidio, Texas. Once there, the sisters were led by a federal officer into a closet-like room one at a time, told to remove all their clothes, and were sexually assaulted. Also in 2015, the Michigan Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit charged two U.S. Border Patrol agents with theft and misconduct while on duty. The two agents allegedly stole from a home while executing an agency-authorized search warrant. Acts such as this are outrageous and unacceptable. Law enforcement officials have a duty to protect vulnerable members of our communities, including new arrivals to our shores, not prey on them.
How does a polygraph test help? First, one would assume that people with bad intentions would have second thoughts about even applying for a law enforcement position if they know a polygraph test will be administered. Second, a polygraph test allows the hiring officer to better understand if there are any red flags that should be investigated before moving forward with the hiring process. How many people are weeded out by the polygraph test? Mr. Tomsheck states that as many as two-thirds of the applicants fail the test; no wonder CBP is having a hard time hiring enough agents.
Currently two bills, the House Anti-Border Corruption Reauthorization Act (H.R.2213) and the Senate Boots on the Border Act (S. 595), are being considered that would waive the polygraph requirement for certain law enforcement and military applicants who have already undergone screening. But according to Mr. Tomsheck, these same people, former law enforcement officials and members of the military, are already failing the polygraph test at the same rates as other applicants. He writes, “Nor do these groups present a lesser risk of integrity violations: they have been involved in some of the most serious CBP corruption activity and excessive force incidents. Importantly, very few members of the military take polygraphs or have comprehensive background checks, and the quality of state or local law enforcement polygraphs varies widely. Past service in these capacities is by no means a proxy for proper, thorough vetting by CBP.”
Making it easier for people with criminal backgrounds or who are likely commit crimes or other abusive behavior to join CBP makes no sense. Instead of watering down the protections we now have in place, we should be adding additional safeguards. If you agree, please take action today by calling your Congressional representatives and telling them not to allow these provisions to move forward. Let them know you oppose the House and Senate bills (H.R. 2213 and S. 595) because neither will make CBP better. Given President Trump’s mass deportation plan, we should make it clear to Congress that these bills would enable him to fill CBP’s ranks with poorly qualified candidates who will apprehend, detain and possibly even abuse more families and members of our communities before deporting them.
Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis, AILA Immediate Past President