Study: Strict Border Policies May Worsen Troubling Corruption Problem Among Officers

SAN DIEGO —¬†On the job corruption is a big problem in many, many fields. Unfortunately, working as a border control officer — more specifically on the U.S. and Mexico border — is one such profession in which corruption is unsettlingly common among officers. Furthermore, researchers at San Diego State University analyzed cases against border enforcement agents and customs officers and found that service time was positively associated with corruption.

One example of agent corruption was a case against a customs officer in El Paso, Texas. This individual was arrested for conspiracy to smuggle cannabis across the U.S. border between 2003 and 2007. After investigating the case, investigators discovered that the officer had gotten a job with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) solely for the purpose of smuggling drugs. Just that one officer is estimated to have funneled $288 million worth of illegal drugs over the border into the United States in collaboration with the Mexican drug cartel.

Besides just that one case, investigators found that between 2006 and 2014 about 30 job applicants admitted during polygraph tests that they were sent to apply by Mexican drug cartels in order to help smuggle drugs.

San Diego State University sociologist David Jancsics says these incidents and statistics support findings from his study, which found that the total years of service agents experienced on the job was the strongest predictor of corruption at the border. Jancsics’ study showed that if border agents were early in their career, they were more likely to be involved in drug and weapon trafficking. If they were veteran enforcement agents, they were more likely to bring in illegal immigrants.

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“One of the main implications of the study is that strict border enforcement may even increase corruption,” said Jancsics in a media release. “Organized crime groups will actively target federal border law enforcement to assist with their illicit transport, since bribing agents is less risky than being caught by random inspections.”

Jancsics analyzed 160 documents obtained by investigative journalists working for the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Texas Tribune via Freedom of Information Act requests. The research team analyzed data from cases in which customs officers and Border Patrol agents were convicted of corruption charges between 2004 and 2015.

The researchers found that 56% of officers with less than five years of service close to the southern border were involved in drug trafficking, while only 27% of officers with over five years of experience were.

But for immigration corruption, the numbers were reversed. 40% of veteran officers participated in human trafficking, compared to 25% of early-career officers.

The study is published in Security Journal.

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