U.S. Senator Mark Pryor today introduced legislation to prevent corruption of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents by Mexican drug cartels. The bill follows a recent hearing held by Pryor that revealed alarming holes in the agent screening process at the same time drug cartels are infiltrating U.S. law enforcement.
Pryor said that the Anti-Border Corruption Act will help prevent rogue border agents from being hired or retained. It requires CBP to follow employment policies requiring polygraph tests of all applicants for law enforcement positions. The requirement would have to be met within two years, providing the agency adequate time to hire and train examiners. Their bill also requires the CBP to eliminate the current employee background check backlog within six months.
"A rigorous hiring process and regular background checks are vital to preventing and weeding out corruption," Pryor said. "CBP agents are on the front lines in the war to secure our borders, and we can't have them waiving through drug smugglers or potential terrorists. My legislation ensures we hire and retain only those who are fully committed to protecting our country."
During last month's hearing, CBP officials revealed that less than 15 percent of job applicants receive a polygraph test during the hiring process, although standing policy calls for all to be examined. Of those applicants who do receive a polygraph test, 60 percent are rendered unsuitable for hiring. Officials at the hearing also said that while CBP employees were required to undergo a background check every five years, the agency has a backlog of 10,000 cases that is expected to rise to 19,000 by year's end.
Pryor also took steps to improve cooperation between the federal agencies responsible for fighting corruption within the CBP, after reports surfaced detailing coordination and information-sharing problems among the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other entities that investigate CBP corruption. Pryor sent a letter, also signed by Senators RonWyden (D-OR), Russell Feingold (D-WI), and Roland Burris (D-IL), to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano requesting that she develop clearly-defined roles and responsibilities regarding corruption investigations to ensure they are executed in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
"My message to DHS is clear: either fix your problems voluntarily, or I will make sure you do it by law," Pryor said. "The stakes are too high to let these problems mount. Drugs smuggled in today could be dirty bombs tomorrow. I refuse to wait for a tragedy to strike before we take action," Pryor said.
In recent years, the CBP has experienced a spike in internal corruption cases as a result of the agency's swift growth. There have been 129 arrests of corrupt CBP officers and agents since 2003, and 576 allegations of corruption in 2009 alone.