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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

OIG: Detailing Border Agents Affects Northern Border Operations

Swanton sector officials told OIG they had difficulty filling positions because agents were aware their duties would include frequent details to the Southwest border.

As part of the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) annual, congressionally mandated oversight of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) holding facilities, it conducted unannounced inspections at three Border Patrol facilities and four Ofice of Field Operations (OFO) ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border, to evaluate CBP’s compliance with applicable detention standards.

In FY 2022, OFO had 107,297 encounters, a 409 percent increase over its 26,257 encounters in FY 2021, and Border Patrol had 2,238 encounters, a 244 percent increase over its 916 encounters in FY 2021.

The May 2022 inspections were carried out in the Swanton sector and the Boston and Buffalo Field Office areas. At the time of the inspections, the CBP facilities did not have migrants in custody. 

OIG inspectors reported that the facilities generally met the requirements of the National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS). They also concluded that CBP’s contingency plans to obtain supplies, food, and medical care in the local community were sufficient for meeting TEDS standards when the facilities might have migrants in custody. 

Although the facilities inspected generally met TEDS standards, OIG found that Border Patrol’s reliance on detailing agents from northern border sectors to the Southwest border has affected enforcement operations in the areas visited. The Swanton sector has frequently assigned Border Patrol agents to temporary details to the Southwest border to assist with migrant processing. These details were mandatory and may become more frequent if Southwest border encounters continue to increase. 

Swanton sector officials told OIG they had difficulty filling positions because agents were aware their duties would include frequent details to the Southwest border. They also reported that some agents working in the sector have retired at the minimum age or left for other work in other agencies because of the details. Officials said the heavy burden on spouses and children when agents are detailed has affected morale among families. 

Swanton sector Border Patrol officials also said the details affected enforcement on the northern border. For example, boat patrols on the St. Lawrence River were curtailed, as was participation in joint law enforcement task forces operating on the northern border. When agents needed to take emergency leave due to illness, some shifts were not staffed or were understaffed. Officials said as a result of the details, the Swanton sector Border Patrol was less effective at disrupting cross-border smuggling and assisting with criminal cases. 

We recently reported OIG’s findings that CBP has not assessed how using details and overtime has affected the workforce and operations.

Although OFO also provided officers to Southwest border ports of entry, such details were voluntary and OIG found this did not hinder northern border operations at the time of the inspections. However, if at some point officers do not volunteer, OFO leadership will be required to make the details mandatory. 

Read the full report at OIG

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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