Border Patrol agents are increasingly backing up police or performing duties such as serving warrants, but critics complain that they are not adequately trained for police work — and some of the results have turned deadly.
In addition, agents' activities with local police departments are raising constitutional rights questions concerning illegal search and seizure methods, reports The Arizona Republic
While Border Patrol agents are turning up numerous times to back up local law enforcement, a September report from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general shows that many of the agents don't understand when to use force. Further, the report said that Border Patrol Academy trainees "are not fully prepared for possible real-life situations they might counter," The Republic reports.
"Border Patrol agents are not adequately trained to solve problems with words," said University of Texas-El Paso anthropology professor Josiah Heyman, who has been studying the border and its issues for the past 30 years. "They don't have these everyday police skills."
Some of the responses have ended in deaths. Out of 24 people killed by Border Patrol agents since 2010, five were shot by agents backing up local police departments or helping serve arrest warrants.
In addition, four of nine Americans shot by Border Patrol agents since 2010 died while agents were assisting police, with three of those deaths occurring near the Canadian border.
Investigators have justified many of the shootings, but in some cases, family members are disputing the Border Patrol's accounts.
Heyman said that part of the problem is that Border Patrol agents generally make commands while at arrest scenes, and often don't have the skills or training they need to deal with situations such as armed standoffs or mentally ill suspects.
In addition, Border Patrol agents do not receive lengthy training courses. Many police academies training courses last for 18-20 weeks, while the Border Patrol graduates agents after just 58 days of training.
The Border Patrol has undergone a recent hiring surge and relaxed its requirements, adding to potential problems, critics say. Agents now are not required to have a high school diploma, reports The Republic, and there have been times the Border Patrol has skipped background checks for potential agents.
More agents could be coming, with amendments to the proposed "Gang of Eight" immigration bill — passed by the Senate but on hold in the House — doubling the number
of Border Patrol agents to a total of 40,000 while increasing surveillance technology along the border.
The planned Border Patrol increases, and their likely further assistance for local police departments, has critics concerned, as U.S. law also makes the Border Patrol's legal procedures different than those for local police departments, leaving them open to questions about violating constitutional rights, said Arizona American Civil Liberties Union attorney James Lyall.
Acting Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Kevin McAleenan said that agents will likely continue assisting local police departments.
"Backing up other law-enforcement agencies is part of the job," McAleenan said. "It's part of our responsibility."
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