A soon to be released report from the federal General Accounting Office (GAO) points to corruption among US forces along the Southwest border as a serious and growing problem, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The number of such cases investigated by the FBI went from 79 in 1997 to 157 in 1998.
Wayne Beaman, special agent in charge of the McAllen, Texas field office of the Justice Department's Inspector General's office, told the Star-Telegram, "It's been overwhelming on the southwest border."
The release of the study comes at a time when Congress has been pushing the Clinton Administration to hire 1,000 new border patrol agents. This week, Attorney General Janet Reno indicated that they would not, citing the difficulties in integrating such an influx of inexperienced officers with concerns over corruption and the inappropriate use of force.
Reno told the congressional appropriations committee on Tuesday (3/9) that law enforcement experts consider it risky for more than 30% of any force to be inexperienced. "As of July, 1998" Reno said, "the percentage of Border Patrol agents with less than two years of experience or less was almost 39%."
But that rationale did not temper the criticisms of proponents of the expansion. In a statement released on Wednesday, Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said, "We have a White House that wants to surrender in the War against Drugs and an Attorney General who is waving the white flag."
On Thursday, Allen Kaye, spokesman for Smith, when asked about the upcoming GAO report and the potential for corruption among both the existing force of Border Patrol agents and new recruits, told The Week Online, "We currently have up to 8,000 agents in the Border Patrol and the overwhelming majority are hard working, patriotic Americans who are serving their country and who would never even consider engaging in corrupt activity. They do a superb job under very difficult circumstances, and we ought to be proud of them."
Kaye continued. "We also have to realize what they're up against. They're facing down the international drug cartels. According to government figures, 70% of all illegal drugs come into the country over the southwest border. With that kind of money involved, there's going to be some corruption."
Asked whether, given the fact that a single truckload of heroin or cocaine can supply entire regions of the country with a year's worth of product, the inevitability of "some corruption" makes the entire enterprise of enforcement fruitless, Kaye responded vociferously.
"That's a legalization argument," he said. "And Congressman Smith rejects that argument out of hand. Our children deserve better than to have us surrender to the drug cartels. Congressman Smith speaks often to PTA's and parents' groups and they consistently urge him to fight hard, not to give up on our children in the War on Drugs. We must confront the smugglers everywhere, and the Congressman believes that we need at least two thousand additional border agents to do that. Even then, he might not be satisfied."
Dr. Al Robison, Director of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, disagrees.
"Once again, it's getting deep up on the hill" he said. "It's disheartening that legislators like Mr. Smith insist upon hiding behind the idea that they're somehow protecting kids with this madness. Another 2,000 agents and perhaps we'll get a handle on this $400 billion a year industry. Hah. We haven't achieved a single drug free community in the whole country, much less a drug free America. The drug war itself is what allows our kids access to this stuff. Giving up on our children? We've long sold out our children in favor of prison industry profits and the budgets of countless federal agencies. If we really wanted to keep drugs out of the hands of children, we'd put the drug trade in the hands of people we could regulate and control. Today, despite decades of escalation of the drug war, drugs are accessible to any American child with a few dollars in his pocket and the desire to use them. To pretend that more money for the border patrol is going to protect our kids is the worst kind of disingenuousness."