While there are many complicated problems
along the U.S.-Mexico border, one piece of the puzzling crisis is corruption.
Sadly, Mexican drug cartels
are corrupting U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at startling rates.
Internal corruption cases have escalated in recent years. Since 2003, there have been 129 corruption arrests of CBP officers. Last year, there were 576 allegations of corruption.
A recent hearing by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ad Hoc Subcommittee on State, Local and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration
highlighted the issue.
One person gained employment as a border inspector specifically to smuggle drugs. The person imported more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana to the United States and received more than $5 million in bribe payments. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.
Another case included two CBP officers in Brownsville, Texas, who assisted an illegal-immigrant and narcotics-smuggling organization. A search of one of the officer's houses yielded $85,250 in cash.
The main reason for such cases? Failure to properly screen potential employees.
Such dangerous cracks in the agent-screening process concern Sen. Mark Pryor
(D-Ark.), chairman of the subcommittee. He says it allows drug cartels to infiltrate this country's law enforcement. Pryor has introduced legislation -- the Anti-Border Corruption Act -- to curb such crime.
"We need to clamp down on this now," Pryor said. "By my estimates, it is already out of control, but it's really about to get out of control if we're not careful."
The legislation includes a more rigorous system of polygraph testing. Pryor's bill would require such tests of all applicants for law enforcement positions.
During the March hearing
, which Pryor was the only senator to attend, CBP officials said that fewer than 15 percent of job applicants receive a polygraph test, even though standing policy states everyone should be examined. Sixty percent of those who do receive a polygraph test are deemed not suitable for hiring. "These tests are a critical part of the screening process to weed out bad apples," Pryor said.
Every five years CBP employees are required to undergo a background check. Currently, there is a backlog of 10,000 cases. That number will nearly double by year's end. Pryor's legislation would require the CBP to eliminate the current employee background check backlog within six months.
The problem isn't just polygraph tests, however. Pryor says there should be drastically improved coordination between the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has received a letter from Pryor that was co-signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Roland Burris (D-Ill.). The senators want better sharing of information and prevention of duplicative investigations. They cited a memo dated Dec. 16, 2009, from the DHS Inspector General's office that claimed jurisdiction over corruption investigations currently being carried out by the Customs and Border Protection Internal Affairs.
"My message to DHS is clear: either fix your problems voluntarily, or I will make sure you do it by law," Pryor said.
If Napolitano doesn't address the issue, Pryor said he will move to put the bill into law because border security is a national security issue. Today, drug smuggling, he says; tomorrow, dirty bombs.