President George W. Bush

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President George W. Bush

          On September 11, 2001, the deadliest and destructive terrorist attack in the history of the United States occurred, disrupting all aspects of American life well into today. Though the attack did not involve, occur, or relate to the Southern Border, pervasive anti-terrorism action would soon aggravate the already aggressive border patrol procedures. Following 9/11, the annual budget for U.S. Border Patrol doubled from $1 billion to $2 billion, before raising to $4 billion within 5 years. In addition to funding, the quantity of agents stationed along the border more than doubled from ten thousand to over twenty thousand. Originally, the mission of the U.S. Border Patrol was to “secure the borders between inspection stations.” After the attacks, the agency adopted a new mission statement which included “preventing terrorists and terrorists’ weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, from entering the United States.”

          In 2002, the Office of Homeland Security exponentially changed the oversight of immigration in the United States by shifting the Immigration and Natural Service and U.S. Border Patrol under the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS was established to coordinate federal agencies with local law enforcement to secure the U.S. from terrorism. Under this new authority, undocumented immigrants became considered national security threats, on par with terrorists. 

          The Bush Administration would continue to develop agencies dedicated to immigration, creating the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Interior Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The addition of these agencies exponentially increased DHS’s yearly budget. In 2003, DHS’s annual budget was $31.2 billion, by 2005 the annual budget increased to over $40 billion dollars. 

          The establishment of CBP resulted in the creation of the largest police force in the United States. This is due to the transfer of U.S. Customs Services, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and U.S. Border Patrol functions under the jurisdiction of CBP. In total, CBP oversaw sixty thousand employees ranging from customs agents to immigration inspectors. 

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President George W. Bush stands with U.S.Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during the swearing-in ceremony of W. Ralph Basham, right, as the new Commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center Artesia Facility in Artesia, New Mexico. Commissioner Basham's wife, Judy Basham, holds the Bible during the ceremony. White House photo by Eric Draper

          Though ICE is not under the heading of CBP, it remained under the umbrella of DHS as an investigative agency. In addition to overseeing interior enforcement of U.S. immigration policies and removal of individuals, ICE is in charge of investigating allegations against DHS. Essentially, DHS retains the power to investigate itself under these structures. Originally, ICE was charged with investigating and removing dangerous undocumented immigrants within U.S. borders. These duties would eventually evolve into the largest immigrant detention and removal force in U.S. history, targeting all immigrants in the U.S. regardless of their criminal history. 

          As noted in the story of Carmelita Torres, agents across decades have abused their position to compromise migrant’s security, health, and safety. In the aftermath of 9/11, these acts became pervasive and permitted. As detailed by a Border Patrol Agent who served from 2008-2009 speaking anonymously to a reporter:

          “After 9/11 the gloves came off, and we were trained to see the migrants as possible terrorists, our training tactics changed and became more militaristic. We had access to heavier and more weapons. I never saw the migrants attitude change. All I witnessed was a more brutal approach to doing a job I had done effectively without excessive use of force for years.”

          Though there was no official policy advising agents to use excessive force, a culture ensued among leadership allowing agents to physically harm migrants, deny food, and engage in name calling. Since these agencies fall under the investigative authority of ICE, most allegations investigated remained in classified reports held by DHS. 

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President George W. Bush Signing of H.R. 6061, the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Roosevelt Room

           Prior to leaving office, Bush signed the Secure Fence Act which doubled the size of U.S. Border Patrol and secured funding to support the growing agency. Despite this federal support, it was proving difficult to recruit agents at the quantities expected by the President. This resulted in U.S. Border Patrol lowering the standards for hiring, shortening the length of training, and placing greater focus on attracting veterans. This consisted of:

  • Raising the maximum age limit for new recruits from 37 to 40

  • Agents who passed the Spanish-language proficiency test training was reduced by 30 days

  • High school diplomas were not required, a middle school education sufficed. 

  • Background checks would be deferred until after an agent was hired.

  • Training was decreased from 91 days to 81 days.

  • The passing grade for the entrance exam was reduced from the 85th percentile to the 70th percentile. 

  • The firearms training was reduced and did not meet national standards. 

          One result of these minimal hiring standards was an influx of agents who later faced misconduct for civil rights violations as well as off-duty crimes such as domestic violence. From 2007 to 2012, the number of agents arrested for this conduct rose to 44%, with 336 agents arrested for crimes. The introduction of militaristic minds in this setting led to difficulties in re-training agents from viewing the border as a theatre of war, with numerous allegations of officers “shooting first” and “asking later” flooding the border. In one incident, agents were caught firing their weapons across the border and killing unarmed Mexican nationals in their own country.


-Sand and Blood: America's Stealth War on the Mexico Border by John Carlos Frey

Last modified: Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020, 14:42