Bored at the Border

A former Border Patrol agent blows the whistle.

One of the things that seems so curious about the Border Patrol's dramatic expansion since 9/11, the subject of my July 27 cover story ("Twilight for Immigrants"), is all the money that the agency is pouring into places that are so far from the border. The people I spoke with told me that agents just seemed to be looking for something to do in order to justify all the extra cash they were receiving—and now a Border Patrol whistleblower from Port Angeles has stepped forward with a jaw-dropping affirmation of that view. "During our work shifts, other agents and I always talked about how coming to work was like the black hole, swallowing us up slowly with no purpose, no mission," said agent Christian Sanchez in a statement he read at a Washington, D.C., forum last Friday put on by the Advisory Committee on Transparency, a project of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation. Sanchez went public after a long-running feud with the Port Angeles station, where he was transferred in 2009 from San Diego. The agent said he was retaliated against after refusing to work overtime—something he felt constituted taxpayer "fraud," given the lack of actual work to do. While his supervisors insisted there was "lots of cross-border activity," Sanchez said he and fellow agents found none. So instead of doing real work, they spent their time driving around the Olympic Peninsula, which they came to refer to as the "Baja 500," after the endurance car race. It's a "bad" situation "for bored, high-energy men to be in," he said. Although Sanchez didn't say so, this undoubtedly helps explain why Border Patrol cars are often spotted roving around Forks, home to a sizable Latino population, and why agents seem to be stopping people at random, without the "reasonable suspicion" legally required. It's one way of looking busy. It's also one way of justifying a bigger "kingdom," as Sanchez says his superiors regarded the Port Angeles station. Sanchez testified that the station, which not long ago had four agents, now has more than 40, a number the Border Patrol has refused to divulge. Shanna Devine, an investigator with the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy organization that is providing Sanchez with legal counsel, says that might be the reason the station's supervisors are insisting that agents take overtime. "The illusion of activity" might give the impression that the outpost needed even "more men on the ground," she says in an interview with Seattle Weekly.  It's a crazy scenario. And yet when Sanchez refused to go along with it, he says he was told by his superiors to get psychological help. He also claims to have been prevented from taking days off, stripped of his role as a Border Patrol chaplain (which he performed in addition to his regular duties as an agent), and subjected to creepy monitoring by fellow agents (who he says would do a "slow roll" by his house and follow him to his Port Townsend attorney). That agents spent their time following him is yet more proof that they had nothing better to do, says Devine. Reached for comment, Jason Carroll, the agent in charge of the Port Angeles station, declined to talk about Sanchez's allegations. Instead, he said that they are being investigated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the entity which encompasses the Border Patrol.

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