Confessions of a Retired Customs and Border Protection Officer

I was employed as a Customs and Border Protection Officer for approximately 16 years. It was interesting work and I have many fond memories of my time with the Immigration Service. The job entails checking entry documents of people entering the United States to ensure their validity and the prevention of the importation of prohibited items. This process must be performed as expeditiously as possible. Officers are frequently reminded by management that they must move people along.

I have worked on the land borders, at airports, and at pre-clearance -- there are several locations where passengers are admitted to the U.S. while still overseas. The first part of inspection is to view an individual’s entry document. These are passports, border crossing cards, and resident alien cards. With the current terrorist situation, this process is becoming more and more important.  Apart from impostors there is a problem with counterfeit documents. 

The United States Department of Homeland Security has over 250,000 employees. Customs and Border Protection Officers run the gamut of personalities. Some are extremely conscientious officers -- some might even say overzealous. Others are frankly indifferent when it comes to their responsibilities. The service also employs people like Ayo Kimathi who has an anti-white website in preparation for a race war. (Kimathi, who was making $115,000 a year, was placed on paid leave for three months so that he could devote full time to his website. He was finally terminated after four months.) 

Management is aware of moral problems that influence the inspection process and has taken measures to improve it. A new policy requires officers to hold the passport up next to the passenger’s face to make a comparison. If an officer is not doing his job conscientiously this method will not necessarily improve his performance. The downside to this procedure it that conscientious officer feel that they are being micromanaged.    

An inspection process is only as good as the people administering it. This brings me to two incidents that occurred between 2004 and 2007. While I was working in pre-clearance, two interracial couples were entering the U.S. In both cases one member of the couple had been admitted to the U.S. The problem was that they had been admitted with their partner’s passports. This problem was resolved, and it was resolved at the lowest level. There was no need to bother management with such a trivial matter. In retrospect I think this was a mistake. It was handled by the officers in order to avoid embarrassment and possibly an entry into the officer’s personal file.  

The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have responsibility for overseeing who enters the United States. They have a problem, like most government agencies, with bureaucrats more interested in furthering their careers than in performing their duties. The databases they use have several problems.This is illustrated by the “no fly list.” Officers are compelled to refer everyone on this list for further inspection. I have personally referred an eight-month-old baby for further inspection. The only recourse is to joke about the matter. I remarked that it is a tragedy when someone goes bad at such a young age.

Now some of the 250,000 employees will have the responsibility to “vet” a large number of refugees. Due to their large number, emphasis will be placed on accomplishing this task as quickly as possible. Homeland Security’s record is not encouraging. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, nearly 200 murderers, over 400 rapists, and 300 kidnappers in the U.S. illegally were released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement while awaiting deportation proceedings in 2013.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at U.S. Department of Homeland Security Kelli Burriesci revealed in her congressional testimony that the department does not have a clue about anything they are responsible for. She has no information on visa overstays. Federal agencies have not provided a new report to Congress on overstays since 1994, despite a congressional mandate. Ms. Burriesci should not be singled out, however. It is to be hoped that she is not representative of upper management at DHS. But she is not unusual. During Congressional hearings, Rep. Jason Chaffetz asked Michele Thoren Bond, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, “You don’t have a clue, do you?” 

Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes has stated, “We have very extensive screening procedures for all Syrian refugees who come to the United States. There is a very careful vetting process that including our terrorism community, our Department of Homeland Security.” Yet, FBI Director James Comey has stated, “The only thing we can query is information that we have. So, if we have no information on someone, they’ve never crossed our radar screen, they’ve never been a ripple in the pond, there will be no record of them there and so it will be challenging.” There were 400 asylum officers to process 51,000 asylum seekers in fiscal year 2014. They will be encouraged to process these 51,000 refugees as quickly as possible.

I began my career in the Immigration Service with a great deal of enthusiasm. Defending the borders of the United States is a tremendous responsibility. My enthusiasm was gradually dampened as I consistently came into conflict with the problems that plague any large bureaucracy. There are many dedicated officers and even many competent managers within Customs and Border Protection. I wish them luck.

John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy, Algora Publishing, 2013.