Much has been said and written about the horrible conditions in the Border Patrol detention centers on the southern US border. But we’ve heard little about what BP agents themselves think of all this, in part because they risk their jobs if they speak to the press. For this reason, I appreciated an article I recently read that offers a rare glimpse of an anonymous agent who is clearly struggling to hold onto his humanity in the midst of an inhuman situation.
To be clear, there’s no need for this inhuman situation to be happening at all; it is a crisis of the Trump administration’s making. The vast majority of people being currently detained are asylum seekers whose asylum requests the US government is legally required to consider. And there is no need to detain them during the asylum process: When asylum seekers are allowed to remain free during that process, roughly 90% of them attend their court hearings, and when they have access to legal representation, that figure jumps to around 98%. (The implication of this is that the 10% non-attendees without legal representation probably fail to attend because they aren’t aware of or have forgotten the date of their hearings, rather than because they’ve run away.) They have no incentive to avoid a process that gives them the opportunity to escape life-threatening situations and obtain legal residency in the United States.
But of course, Border Patrol agents on the ground have little say about the government’s detention policy. What are their views, and how does their job affect them? Clearly the job takes a toll. Even though BP wages and benefits are excellent, the agency has by far the largest turnover of any federal law enforcement agency, and its suicide rate is disturbingly high. And sadly, many agents have descended into true barbarism, as multiple reports of abuses and a recent article about a secret BP Facebook group have revealed.
That being said, these people are human beings like me, my brothers and sisters, and out of love and compassion I want to learn more about them rather than condemn them. That’s why I so much appreciated the article I mentioned in the opening paragraph, written by Ginger Thompson of ProPublica. In reading her account of one anonymous agent who shares his experiences and reflections, I feel like I’ve gotten in touch with a fallible but decent human being who is trying his best to come to grips with a situation that has turned into a nightmare. Here’s the link once again: