Border Patrol Sexual Assaults: Sloppy Hiring May Be To Blame For High Rates

la migra es un bully
"The 'Migra' (border patrol) is a bully" reads a protester's sign at a rally for victims killed by Border Patrol agents. San Ysidro, California February 23, 2013. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker

Polygraph procedures common in other law enforcement agencies could have reduced the "disturbing" and "disproportionate" number of sexual misconduct cases in the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a retired official told CBS on Monday. James Tomsheck, now retired, served as Chief of Internal Affairs at the CBP, where he investigated a “spike” of misconduct that included offenses on and off duty. At least 21 agents in the 45,000-strong institution were convicted of sexual misconduct in the past few years, including  crimes like possession of child pornography, molestation and the rape and murder of detained migrants. Tomsheck confirmed reports by journalists that misconduct among Border Patrol agents may be the result of the agency’s rapid expansion under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Tomscheck told CBS News Correspondent Anna Werner that the the CBP took shortcuts on polygraphing potential agents a standard in other agencies. The retired official, who has also worked for the Secret Service said that unlike other agencies, the Border Patrol did not administer polygraph exams to all new agents, nor did it administer them periodically to all existing agents. Polygraph exams, which can detect lying, have the potential to reveal misdeeds in situations where background and reference checks do not. For example, they're a key tool to make sure that CIA agents don’t have gambling debt or embarrassing secrets that can cause them to be blackmailed. They've also screened out some would-be Border Patrol agents. 

Dozens of aspiring agents who were subjected to pre-employment polygraph exams during hiring were found to be unsuitable for the job, and some even admitted to committing horrible crimes, according to a recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Some were found to have histories of kidnapping, murder, negligent homicide, drug trafficking and other offences, despite appearing like ideal candidates according to employment histories and background checks. Yet thousands of agents have never had a polygraph screening. Tomsheck suspects that many convicted CBP agents were serial offenders who may have hidden criminal histories and could be removed from duty if subjected to the same scrutiny as personnel from other agencies.

"I believe there are many persons in the organization today that if subjected to periodic polygraph screening would be found to be unsuitable," said Tomsheck. Tomscheck reportedly emailed his concerns to CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske but never received a response. Tomscheck is now retired.

The CBP did not answer the Latin Times’ requests for comment.


Correction: this article has been amended to show the name of the reporter who coducted the interview with Tomscheck. That was CBS News Correspondent Anna Werner, not CBS News Anchor Scott Pelley

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