A USA Today article caught my eye this morning. I have dealt, on several levels, with Border Patrol matters since beginning my practice about ten years ago. In almost every case, on every level, the situation was troubling. In some sense, I want to assume that I’m just seeing the worst, and that a lot of people have better experiences. I also deal with a lot of bad stuff with other agencies, as well. But with Border Patrol (now called “Customs and Border Patrol” since the reorganization after 9/11), it just seems like there is more bad stuff, and it is generally worse, than other federal agencies.

The USA Today article is based on this analysis by the American Immigration Council. The gist is that lots of complaints about the conduct of Border Patrol agents are being filed, and not a lot is being done about it.

My experience has been that most agencies (FBI, DEA, etc.) really do try to maintain a high standard of conduct for their agents. Bad cops are disciplined in some way or another because these agencies recognize that tolerating bad actions by their agents brings disrepute on their agencies and jeopardizes their purposes.

But my experience has been that Border Patrol has less interest in dealing with dirty agents, and as a result, more bad stuff goes on.

The USA Today article is very consistent with my experience. In summary, “Border Patrol agents who commit abuse simply get away with it,” said Vicki Gaubeca of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Regional Center for Border Rights in New Mexico.

My past experience has been with defending immigration cases before Immigration Judges (deportation or removal proceedings) and appeals of such cases. I no longer handle many of those cases, but I still do handle federal asset forfeiture cases arising out of Border Patrol checkpoint stops. The article does not address these complaints, nor does it deal with the issue of under-reporting (lots of people don’t make complaints out of fear of retaliation).

My experience is that Border Patrol agents capitalize on the fear of those going through the checkpoints. After they take their money from them, the Border Patrol agents tell their victims that if they try to recover their money, it will go very badly for them (their family members will be deported, or charges may be filed against them). But, if they just let it go, nothing bad will happen to them, except that they just won’t get their money back.

Border Patrol agents assume that the person coming through their checkpoint would not be carrying more than a few hundred dollars if they weren’t a drug dealer, and so they take the money, make the threat, and know that more often than not, the person will be so scared that they will just let it drop. Sometimes Border Patrol agents even imply that the person will be held at the checkpoint and not be released until they make some admission about the money. And the Border Patrol agents who commit abuse simply get away with it.

In my opinion, the most glaring abuse is that these threats are contrary to the truth that if they just get an attorney who knows federal asset forfeiture law to help them, they will likely get their money back and no negative consequences will follow. Most people whose money is taken are simply not drug dealers, have not committed any other crime or wrongdoing, and have nothing to fear. They just need to hire an attorney who has experience dealing with Border Patrol asset forfeiture cases.


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