Thursday, June 05, 2008
CNN's Lou Dobbs Is Clueless When It Comes to a Broken border and protection. My Opinion: It's sad history but doesn't mean that we are less corrupted than the Mexican counterpart. Blaming Mexico and Mexicans doesn't make you an exception of pathetic and Anti Mexican.
MIAMI — Bribery. Drug trafficking. Immigrant smuggling. McClatchy Newspapers.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is supposed to stop these types of crimes.
But instead, so many of its officers have been charged with committing those crimes themselves that their boss in Washington recently issued an alert about the "disturbing events" and the "increase in the number of employee arrests."
Thomas Winkowski, assistant commissioner of field operations, wrote a memo to
more than 20,000 officers nationwide noting that employees must behave professionally at all times — even when they are not on the job.
"It is our responsibility to uphold the laws, not break the law," Winkowski wrote in the Nov. 16 memo, which was obtained by The Miami Herald. Winkowski could not be reached for comment.
Winkowski's memo cites several employee arrests involving domestic violence, driving under the influence and drug possession. But court records show that Customs and Border Protection officers and other Department of Homeland Security employees from South Florida to the Mexican border states have been charged with dozens of far more serious offenses.
Among them: A Customs and Border Protection officer at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was charged in February with conspiring to assist a New York drug ring under investigation by tapping into sensitive federal databases.
Winkowski's warning signals an overwhelming preoccupation with public perception in the era after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Two highly controversial issues, illegal immigration and national security, have thrust Homeland Security into the public eye as it tries to prevent another terrorist attack.
The bureaucratic behemoth grew out of a controversial consolidation five years ago of several federal agencies, including the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Employees of both agencies joined either of two new agencies: Customs and Border Protection or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known for their acronyms CBP and ICE.
CBP handles the border, airports and seaports; ICE investigates immigration- and customs-law violators.
"We as an agency are constantly policing ourselves so that the public trust is not diminished as a result of inappropriate activity, whether it's on the job, off the job, criminal or not criminal," said Zachary Mann, a special agent and CBP spokesman in Miami.
Some ICE employees also have been caught up in episodes of alleged misconduct — although a senior Miami-area official said he was not aware of any increase in criminal or administrative actions.
"I haven't noticed an uptick in misbehavior, even though we have had a substantial increase in personnel since the merger," said Anthony Mangione, the ICE Miami special agent in charge.
Administrative incidents are normally kept quiet by federal authorities. But officials can't control publicity when misconduct escalates to serious criminal behavior, such as the February case involving the CBP officer at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Elizabeth Moran-Toala, a six-year veteran, was accused of accessing an electronic database known as the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, which serves as a tool to stop illegal drug imports.
According to an indictment, she is accused of tapping into the system several times to pass along information to a Delta Airlines baggage handler who was conspiring with a drug ring to transport cocaine and heroin on flights from the Dominican Republic to New York. Moran-Toala, 36, was transferred to New York in late February for prosecution.
Other recent South Florida cases — mirroring a pattern on the border states — have involved officers and agents accused of accepting illegal payoffs for migrant smuggling, drug trafficking, witness tampering, embezzlement and rape.
CBP and ICE managers say these cases simply reflect individual criminal behavior, not the culture of the married agencies.
But some longtime employees said administrative incidents, such as hostile confrontations or heavy drinking, may reflect the low morale and intense rivalries after the merger of federal agencies under Homeland Security.
Some employees from the old INS are the most vocal in their complaints. They bitterly denounce employees who came from the old Customs Service for "seizing control" of both CBP and ICE, "lording it over" former INS employees and showing disdain toward immigration-related work.
Expected to improve efficiency, the merger has instead spawned tension. Both CBP and ICE scored near the bottom in a 2007 survey of employee satisfaction at 222 federal government agencies.
Mangione, the ICE agent, dismissed the notion that employee misbehavior is a result of post-merger friction.
"An employee smuggling aliens has nothing to do with the merger," Mangione said. "It's somebody being a criminal."