Border Patrol changes

Border Patrol agents have impunity partly because of the lack of an efficient office of internal affairs—one that holds agents accountable for their behavior.

The announcement a few days about the restructuring of this office and the replacement of its leader, James Tomscheck, is a good sign that changes are coming up. Or at least it lets us believe for a moment that things will change when it comes to investigating incidents and complaints involving Border Patrol agents.

Tomscheck is blamed for not assigning enough investigators to handle hundreds of complaints filed against agents. Official numbers indicate that, from 2009–2012, only 13 cases of abuse, out of a total of 809 cases reported, led to disciplinary action. The majority of these 13 resulted in counseling sessions.

At the same time, the agency’s records do not include cases referred for investigation to various civil rights offices in other federal agencies. They do not include at least 15 cases in three years of people shot and killed by Border Patrol agents. Also, what happened to the agents involved in these cases is unknown.

The question is whether this replacement really means a more self-critical vision in the federal agency or is just a political answer to the wave of criticism that has been building up against Border Patrol—for excesses ranging from brutal beatings (that have caused the death of detainees) to deadly shootings of minors on the other side of the border.

Some people argue that Tomscheck is not the problem; instead, the trouble lies at the top of the organization. Like with everything, action will determine whether the impunity that encouraged misbehavior among Border Patrol agents has come to an end.