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How the Border Patrol Became Our Most Stunningly Corrupt Law Enforcement Agency

November 13, 2014 in Blogs

By Allegra Kirkland, AlterNet

The rise of the Border Patrol is a result of the post-9/11 obsession with “protecting our homeland.”

When Congress first created the Border Patrol back in 1924, it was staffed by a ragtag collection of former Texas Rangers, local sheriffs and mail clerks. These men, stationed at backwoods outposts along the 7,500 miles that demarcate the U.S. border, were charged with handling customs violations and preventing liquour smuggling during Prohibition. The agency was seen as the forgotten stepchild of U.S. law enforcement—understaffed, undertrained and nonessential.

Today, the Border Patrol is the country’s largest law enforcement agency, with some 46,000 Customs officers and Border Patrol agents. Their annual budget is a jaw-dropping $12.4 billion, and “securing our borders” is a top priority for U.S. politicians both Democratic and Republican. In an investigation for Politico, Garrett M. Graff traces the evolution of the Border Patrol from its roots as a bureaucratic backwater to its current status as the linchpin of our national security strategy.

As Graff deftly illustrates, the rise of the Border Patrol is a direct result of the post-9/11 obsession with “protecting the homeland.” At the time the planes hit the Twin Towers, there were only 9,000 border agents and the agency only had the financing to hold 60 detainees a day. But in the years that followed, our national security apparatus metastasized and we bore witness to a succession of inextricably linked trends: the expansion of the surveillance state, rabid xenophobia, drone warfare, egregious abuses by law enforcement personnel at home and abroad. This coincided with a spike in illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America, spurred by poverty and the savage violence of the drug wars. Our southern border became freighted with new meaning, as the frontline in keeping potential terrorists—and all other unwanted persons—from entering the country.

But, as we learned in Iraq, throwing money and thousands of inexperienced, armed recruits at a problem is not a good solution. The agency—which now fell under the jurisdiction of the newly created Department of Homeland Security—quickly went from being understaffed to uncontrollably massive. Agents, some of whom had only been on the …read more


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