It has been a fact of political life in America for decades, if you want Congress to bless your program for more humane immigration reforms, you have to first make contributions to the Church of Border Security…bigger budgets…more hires…broader powers for the agents protecting our national frontiers.
President George W. Bush, as he approached the last years of his Presidency deeply wished to reform immigration law, so he collaborated with Congress on a huge pre-reform build-up of law enforcement capacities.
In the end, as has often been the case, Congress took the build-up and dumped the reforms, and the years 2006 to 2009 saw the most dramatic investment ever in growing border protection. In a few short years, a Border Patrol force of 12,000 grew to 20,000, an increase of 67%. Deadlines for the build-up were tight and so, corners had to be cut. Vetting of applicants suffered, and training courses were drastically shortened, from 117 days to 66.
The results were disastrous. A lot of people with negative motivations got put on the force: people who wanted bribes, or opportunities to steal, people who were also working for drug cartels, people who just wanted to bully border-crossers. The records show incidents of crime and corruption, of violence and abuse spiked.
It didn’t help that management of the Office of Customs and Border Protection was a low priority for the Obama Administration. The agency went without a Congressionally-approved Commissioner from 2009 to 2014 when Gil Kerlikowske, the long-time Police Chief of Seattle got the job.
One of the first things he saw on his new CBP desk was a report from the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based law enforcement think tank that detailed breakdowns in Border Patrol operations and offered recommendations for reform. By all reports, he took them seriously and began to clean things up.
With the arrival of the Trump Administration, Kerlikowske left, but his spirit lives on in a new course of training planned for recruits in yet another dramatic surge in hiring…5000 new people being added to a force of close to 20,000…a 25% increase…big, but more manageable than the Bush-era overreach.
For these new recruits, the training course has been returned to the old 117 days, and its emphasis on real Spanish-language skills is also back. But at least some aspects to the new training plan are themselves genuinely new, and are being implemented by one of Kerlikowske’s top deputies, Dan M. Harris.
Ron Nixon is The New York Times’s homeland security correspondent. He is based in the Washington bureau, where he covers border and aviation security, immigration, cybercrime and cyber security, and violent extremism.
Mr. Nixon is a Marine Corps infantry veteran who saw combat in the 1990 Persian Gulf War. He was also stationed at Marine Corps Security Forces Battalion Norfolk, a security and counterterrorism unit of the United States Marine Corps.
He joined The Times in 2005, covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and federal efforts to help rebuild the area, for the Times business desk. In 2008, he helped cover the financial crisis. He later joined the Washington bureau as an enterprise reporter focusing on congressional earmarks, federal contracting and the impact of regulatory policies on regular Americans. He has reported from Rwanda, Uganda, Belgium, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mr. Nixon is also the author of “Selling Apartheid: Apartheid South Africa’s Global Propaganda War” (Jacana Media, June 2015).
Mr. Nixon is a passionate Minnesota Vikings fan and a musician.