Steve Inskeep's wide-ranging interview with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske covers topics including the agency's use of force policy, criticisms of a culture of secrecy and the commissioner's history as a police chief in Seattle. A full transcript of the interview follows:
STEVE INSKEEP: Give me an idea why it was that transparency was an important goal for you from your beginning at this organization?
U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION COMMISSIONER R. GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Having a career in law enforcement, you really clearly understand that if you don't have the support and cooperation of the people — whether it's in a community or on the border — you're not gonna be very effective, no matter how large your resources are. And the best way to go about having that trust and that cooperation where people call you and rely on you is to be open and transparent as much as you can.
This is an organization that hasn't had the reputation of being very transparent.
Right, and it's a part of the changes that I think that are going on within the Border Patrol. And I think it's gonna be important that we do that and [U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson] has made it very clear that that's a goal of his also.
What has made the use of force in particular so difficult for this agency to discuss?
I think there are a number of problems that are a little unique or different from a local law enforcement agency. Local law enforcement agencies can investigate those incidents and there's oftentimes just one investigative agency at the beginning and there's oftentimes just one prosecutor. When the Border Patrol takes an action involving use of force, it can involve a multitude of agencies, a local sheriff's departments, one as large as San Diego, one as small as a very small county. It can involve various prosecutors, then of course involves the United States attorneys, the FBI, oftentimes the inspector general. So it gets to be a little confusing.
Granting that it's confusing and that multiple agencies are involved, the ACLU and other organizations, as you know, have identified things that big city police departments, like ones you used to run, do in cases of a civilian being shot by an officer, that seem rather straightforward. Like a very senior officer comes out and talks to the press about it, regular updates are given on the investigation, the officer is named, the officer is a assigned to desk duty or something until the matter is cleared up. Why do those things not happen with the Border Patrol?
I think there are a couple things that are just a little different. One is that there's some federal privacy laws regarding the naming of the officer — and depending on the jurisdiction, even a local police department doesn't always name the officer immediately. But there's no reason that within 24 hours a senior member of the Border Patrol can't give a fairly detailed description to the best of their knowledge of what occurred. And then when I was in Seattle, I started that process after every use of deadly force, to hold a press conference within 24 hours. That did not go over particularly well at first with senior members, particularly senior members in the homicide division. We also knew that when you do those press conferences early and quickly oftentimes information will change later. On the other hand, if you don't do the press conference, somebody is going to fill that void, and that's the changes we need to make in the Border Patrol.
You said there's no reason why a senior officer cannot give information within 24 hours. Have you given such a directive now for the Border Patrol?
We have a new head of internal affairs that is on loan to us from the FBI. So, Mark Morgan is bringing a number of practices and things that they have been doing and others. So we're working on a host of changes. A number of changes have already occurred. This will just be part of more to come.
So that's something we should expect, not something that is enforced right now?
It is something you should expect in the future. We have to do some training, some parameters, but those are the kind of things that we want to do and can be more open about doing.
I want to explore your past as a big city police chief — because I've been reading about it, it's really interesting. You of course had to deal with the use of force on a metropolitan level. And you were associated with reforms — for example, getting cameras in cars, if I'm not mistaken. What were the problems you encountered on the big city level and what were some of the things you felt most strongly about changing?
Well, I think the culture in law enforcement is at times very resistant to change. So when I put cameras, video cameras, in every patrol car there were a number of issues that police officers' guild or the unions had brought up and there were concerns raised, frankly, that turned around fairly quickly when it was seen how useful those video cameras could be, and how often they were used to exonerate an officer when a complaint was made. Those are the kinds of cultural changes that we'll need to do. Now remember with the Border Patrol, they are in much more rugged terrain. Many more vehicles that would have to be equipped, but those are the things that we should at least be talking about and looking at. And of course, now the changes have occurred where they're even lapel-based or uniformed-based cameras. We're looking at several of those options also.
You're looking at the option of lapel-based cameras?
We are. We purchased some to try out but just remember our terrain is often much more difficult than an urban environment. So we'll see how they work in field testing and go from there.
Can you describe the status of that trying out? Are there agents in the field now with ...
We've opened up in West Virginia a center of excellence for studying the use of force and have brought in a number of people to take a look at a host of technologies and ideas. New policy was issued out of that group. There are less lethal technologies or less than lethal technologies and the cameras is another one, so they're all looking at this array of options that the Border Patrol may be able to use.
What's another option that's on the table for you?
Well, I think the less-than-lethal technology is particularly helpful, and that's already been deployed to a number of locations. These are things such as tasers, other types of equipment that may be useful. You know, when the only tools on your tool belt are a collapsible baton and a firearm, you really don't have many options, but there are a lot of changes that have been made in technology and we need to explore those.
This may be a question you posed to someone at some point: In the iconic rock-throwing situation, an agent is faced with someone who may be throwing rocks. What's the hierarchy of responses? Like, what are they trained to do first, second, third?
Well, let me tell you what I have addressed with whether it's a recruit class in Artesia (N.M.) or Border Patrol agents. Or what we call musters — or some people would call roll calls — with senior Border Patrol agents across the country. Northern border, southern border. And I've said to them three things: There is no apprehension of a person. There is no seizure of any amount or type of drug. And there is no pursuit that is worth you becoming injured for or as a result of, as a result of those actions. And I think that comes from the experience of 40 years in law enforcement. There will be another day, there will be another opportunity to make an apprehension, to seize drugs or to arrest someone, and an officer being injured or a Border Patrol agent being killed or injured is not worth that case.
Now that's really interesting. You're saying, I'm trying to interpret that a little bit, you're saying seriously consider getting out of that situation rather than firing back at someone.
And that's even, even clearly stated in our new use of force policy. And this is something that came from a number of agents and that is there may be a point in time where you are completely justified in your actions and the use of deadly force are clearly supported. What were the steps that led to that particular action? Were there things that you could have or perhaps should have done to prevent that from occurring? And we see that more and more.
I'm just interested in how it is that you train people to think through that situation. I assume that that is done in advance because they have to think in a second. Are they told, "Try this first, this second, this third." Are they told, "Here are four options you may have depending on the situation?"
So in the past, the training around use of force was always about hierarchy, that you move from the absolute lowest level of force to the greatest level. You know, unfortunately, 30-page manuals and training curriculum don't particularly work in very tense, emotional situations that involve physical force, et cetera. So what we need to do is to think about all of the safety training that can go into this, because all of this is really designed to make sure that agents are not hurt and that agents don't lose their lives in the line of duty, but that they're still able to protect themselves and others. So we have a person out in Artesia that is revamping our entire training curriculum, everything from installing international fences, so that agents actually in the training program have a chance to take a look at ...
Like a simulated border fence.
The environment and a variety of those fences that exist now along the border. That hadn't happened before.
So it's all about getting people used to the environment that they may be in and, what, thinking for themselves?
Well, it's more than that. It's taking people from what is predominantly at times an academic environment, because they have a large amounts of legal training — fluency in Spanish, on and on — lots of classroom training. What you really need to do is to translate that out into the field. But then more importantly, after they leave the confines of that academic environment in, in Artesia, New Mexico, they need to be able to work with experienced agents who can take them from the academic environment into the field in a, in a structured way.
You know, when we talked with Border Patrol agents, there's a particular commander, your commander in Laredo [Texas] who comes to mind who we were asking about the use of force and he pointed out if my agent is in an encounter, I want him to be able to prevail. He's pointing out there's no point in the guy losing that encounter. Have you had some pushback when you've pointed out things like you said, that you don't want anyone to risk their lives just to get an arrest?
Well, I think that the key is that I kind of come to this decision with some credibility. I mean, I'm the first confirmed commissioner of CBP in this administration. I'm the first confirmed commissioner that comes from a local law enforcement background. I think that that's helpful and I think that the changes that the Border Patrol agents and hierarchy are making themselves are all pushing us in the right direction on these decisions.
But has there been some resistance within the force to this approach?
I don't really think so because there isn't anyone that is asking them to put themselves in any undue or harmful or dangerous situation. Giving them additional tools and additional training and additional support is useful. The other thing that comes to mind though is that I've known a number of law enforcement officers that have used deadly force and taken somebody's life in the line of duty. There is a toll and a responsibility, and that stays with them forever and stays with their family forever. No one that I've ever worked with in 40 years go to work in the morning, putting on their vest and putting on their gunbelt and said "Gee, I hope I have a chance today to use my firearm."
I want to ask something else about your experience. And this is something I read a short description of, so you'll correct me if I misremember or get any details wrong. I believe it was in about 2001 in Seattle. There was an incident of disorder on the streets and the account that I read said, "The police chief was fiercely criticized for not using enough force." What happened in that case?
So to try and collapse a long story: After the World Trade Organization riots, disturbances, I became the police chief. And in Seattle, they decided to hold the anniversary of WTO. The city was quite nervous given all that had occurred in the city and the damage and on and on. We went through thousands and thousands of demonstrators that November, when I first arrived in 2000, without any problems. Rather than have all of our officers in very hard gear, helmets and masks and on and on, I was with them in the streets in soft gear — and not that we didn't have those resources available.
Meaning just uniformed police officers, looking like police officers.
Right. Exactly. And working with the public and by the end of the night, things had turned a little bit more difficult, but we had the support and the resources. So as the mayor said, he said, "Oh, this is great, you could run for mayor." And four months later, we had a Mardi Gras disturbance downtown in which a young man died. And I was roundly criticized for not using enough force. I think the understanding is that any time a disturbance goes out of control, the police will be blamed, either for causing it by using too much force or by not enforcing the rule of law. And I stick by the decisions that I made that night.
In that case, what happened? Your officers got out of the line of not fire, but the line of violence, I suppose.
What had happened after the WTO anniversary was that the police guild did a survey and said, "You're really putting these officers at risk because they should have helmets, pads, on and on, et cetera." And that stuff was all available, and we had hardened officers available. So when the Mardi Gras issue came up, all the officers were in hardened gear. Well, to tell you the truth, it makes it pretty difficult, when you're talking from behind a face shield with a gas mask, to engage with the public and say, "Look, let's, let's tone this down. Let's calm things down. Let's make sure that those people that need to be apprehended are arrested because of their intoxicated state or their level of violence, et cetera." It's pretty hard to engage in those discussions when you're hardened up. I regret that today. I should've stuck by my decision earlier. I didn't.
Wait a minute. Your decision earlier was ...?
My decision had been, I listened to what the police guild had said, that the officers would be in danger if they weren't in hardened gear.
So you hardened them.
And so they were all in hardened gear. And usually, you don't, you're not all right out on the street, you're back. Well, while you're back, the crowd is brewing, things are getting out of control. This is an alcohol-fueled Mardi Gras — although it's 40 degrees in March in Seattle.
By the time you move in with all of your platoons of officers, things are already in a very, in a very bad state. I would've been smarter to approach it with officers dressed as I was, in soft gear, and deal with them.
Oh, this is so interesting. You're saying because they were hardened up, they were standing back ...
... like a military force ...
... ready to strike if necessary.
And so they weren't involved.
And things got out of hand.
Wow, that's really interesting. Now let me just does that experience inform what you're doing today in any way?
I think the experiences over a number of years, whether it was in Buffalo or whether it was in Seattle. You know, it's been my career, it's been my life for four decades. I think all of that gives me an understanding, an appreciation. Remember the Border Patrol culture is a unique culture in law enforcement. A municipal police force, your backup, may be 30 seconds or a minute away. In the Border Patrol, your backup may have it be an hour away, so they need to be well-trained. They need to have the right equipment. But it's a changing culture, too, because it's grown so large so quickly.
Since you followed our reporting, you know that we've paid attention to some of the shootings that have gone unresolved for a number of years; in some cases, two or three years or more, without a response from federal authorities about whether a shooting was justified or not justified. Is that an acceptable length of time to wait, even with all the complexities involved with an investigation?
No, it's not an acceptable time. You know, sometimes we have to recognize that especially when deadly force is used, the Department of Justice and the civil rights division can take quite a long period time to review those. And of course, the civil rights division also reviews uses of deadly force by municipal and country officers also. But on our part, on the, on Customs and Border Protection part, we can move more quickly to look at what occurred, whether or not that incident was within the policy and guidelines of the department, and also what should we be learning as a result of what happened.
Do you also discipline officers without waiting for the Department of Justice or others to weigh in?
I have not seen a discipline case involving an officer involved in a use of deadly force that has come to me in the five months that I've been here. Our head of internal affairs, Mark Morgan, who's on loan to us from the FBI, currently has a process to review all of the 67 uses of deadly force that have been enumerated in a report done by the Police Executive Research Forum.
You told reporters some weeks ago, you were asked about those 67 uses of deadly force, you were asked, "Has anybody been disciplined?" I believe your response, if I can summarize, was, "I'm sure someone has, but it's hard to tell."
Yeah, it's very hard to tell, because we have a database that is very difficult to access. So Mr. Morgan has a process to review every one of those cases in detail.
Do you ...
And he'll be reporting back to me.
Do you know any better if any of those 67 ...
I don't right now.
OK. Let me ask about a couple of specific high-profile cases, just to see if, I don't know, if you've asked for review of them, if you're aware of anything. One is the shooting in Nogales, Arizona, or actually Nogales, Sonora. There was a teenager on the Mexican side, one or more Border Patrol agents on the other side. The teenager was shot, according to the Mexican autopsy, a number of times including in the back. What do you know about what happened there?
I've reviewed parts of that case, and I've spoken on two occasions with the Attorney General of Mexico, Attorney General Karam, about the case. It is a case that's very concerning to the government of Mexico and certainly to the family. That case is with the Department of Justice, so I will be getting more information, but that I believe goes back to 2010.
The Nogalas I think is 2012.
But there are cases that go back to 2010, yeah.
So this is 2012, yeah, two years old.
So it would be a responsibility on our part, on my part in particular to work with the Department of Justice to get these cases resolved.
It's not clear from the outside even how many shooters there were. Do you know how many agents fired?
I don't know the specifics on both. I'm familiar with some of the details on both of those very high-profile cases but not with a great deal of specificity. I'm sorry, I just don't have it.
It's OK, it's OK. Do you know — and this is something I think a big-city police department you'd get an answer — do you know if the agent is on desk duty, on regular duty, has been disciplined in any way?
I don't know.
Is that something you think you should know?
Well, I think that the chief of the Border Patrol would do is to review those cases and quite often people will be placed on administrative duty, often times not suspension, but they'll be until some decision is made regarding, regarding that the decision that the agent used to use deadly force. So I'd probably refer you to [Chief of the Border Patrol Michael Fisher] with those level of details.
OK. We'll be happy to talk with him if he's willing to talk with us at some point.
In fact, we invited him to talk with us. Same questions about Laredo, the 2012 incident in which there was shooting from a boat. Do you feel you understand any better what happened there?
I think all of the incidents that have been involved over the years, particularly the ones that were talked about and looked at in some level of detail by the group, Police Executive Research Forum, an outside group. And I would mention that that outside group was brought in by CBP and asked to come in and review those — I'll be meeting with them. I'll be meeting with chief, our internal affairs chief Mark Morgan, to go over the details of those cases. And there are many more than of course just the ones you're talking about.
Oh sure. I'm not going to go through a long list, but I do want to ask about one more, I want to mention one more ...
... because it's one that was very recently in the news: the appeals court ruling on the case in Juarez, and that one was from 2010. I just want to mention first off, what was your response to that court ruling?
Well, this is a 5th Circuit ruling that essentially has severed the government from this civil liability case but has allowed, at least in this initial ruling, has allowed the case to go forward against the individual Border Patrol agent. I think there are a couple — and the agent by the way is represented by counsel from the Border Patrol counselor, the Border Patrol union, not the Department of Justice. So I think a couple things are concerning outside of the justification and the use of deadly force in that case, and I don't believe that any criminal charges were ever, have ever been brought against that agent. I believe they were declined by a variety of state and local and federal prosecutors. But the civil liability issue can have a chilling effect when you're sued individually.
Well, that's interesting you mention that. I did see statements from federal prosecutors, among others, stating that there were no violations of federal law. But that seems to have been under an interpretation that federal law doesn't apply when an agent shoots across the border into Mexico. You now have a situation where an appellate court has found that actually federal law can apply in that situation. And while the federal government may have sovereign immunity, as it does everywhere else in the United States or beyond, the quote was that no reasonable officer would have understood the Border Patrol agent's conduct to be lawful. Isn't that a troubling thing to read in an appellate court ruling?
I think that is troubling, but I also recognize that this probably is not the last review by an appellate court on this case. So rather than me try and speculate on what the next ruling may be, I'm probably better off not going any further till that happens.
Let me ask an operational question then. Going forward, after this court ruling, would you want your agents to presume that if they're in some encounter on the border with someone who's just on the other side, would you want them to presume that federal law does apply to their acts in that situation?
From my standpoint, the key is for the training, the policy, the guidelines, et cetera, that these agents, one, not place themselves or do everything they can to not place themselves in harm's way. That the training they receive in New Mexico, where they actually have border fences that can be used for training purposes, will make that possibility much less, but that any time they're going to use force, that the force that they use must be within the parameters and the guidelines that we have set out in our use of force policy, which we've actually published.
But I mean, should they act, then, if someone is outside the United States by a few feet or a few yards, should they act the same as if they're in the United States, or do different rules apply?
That's a tough question for me to answer because when you look at the border, you see fences, you see sometimes just a road, sometimes logs, and sometimes you see absolutely no description of where the border actually is. So I think that makes it tough. That's why going to the use of force training, the use of force policies, I think is a better example than trying to decide, what is the line or where is the line.
You'd prefer that the agent just not pull the trigger if it can possibly be avoided.
Well, I'd prefer the agent remain safe, the agent be able to protect himself or herself, and that if they do have to use force, that the agent uses the force necessary — only the force necessary — and that is within the guidelines of our policy.
I told you that I met the mother — I think I did — I told you that I met the mother of the teenager in March. And I reached out to her again this week. I said, I'm going to talk to the commissioner of CBP. And he's a new guy, and he's made transparency and openness key, and he's focusing on use of force. Do you have anything you want to ask him? And she sent word back, and this was her question. She just said, "I would like to know if you're going to help us with our case, if you're going to follow through."
I can promise you on these cases involving force and the reviews that are going on that we will be following through, and I'll be examining these with a group of people here in CBP, leadership within the Border Patrol and others, that are just as absolutely concerned as I am at getting things resolved, at being more open to the public and the people we serve about what our actions are. But I would also tell you that this is built up over quite a bit of time, and it's going to take a little time to resolve it. We've already done a lot of things that I've mentioned, but we have a lot more to do.
Will you look again at that specific case, which was declared closed, at least as far as CBP was concerned?
That will be one of the cases out of the many we've been discussing and have been talked about, that will be one of the ones to look at. And I would promise you that I would — or I would promise her that I would certainly see the results of those cases made more open and more visible.
You've mentioned training a number of times, and I want to ask about that because you've stressed the importance of it and the increased sophistication of it. I'm told that as the Border Patrol has expanded rather rapidly over the last decade or a little more, that the basic training has gone from 21 weeks of basic training down to 16. Why was that done?
I think that there's been a little confusion around that. So first let me state that Kevin Strong, who is in charge of the academy now, is very much revising, through a very, an excellent system and a group of people, taking a hard look at all of the training curriculum. But part of that reduction was whether or not an agent who has to be fluent in Spanish needed additional language skills, because we hire a number of people that are already very fluent in Spanish and don't need to stay longer than the 16 weeks. If, as a result of the review that Kevin is leading, that the academy needs to be lengthened, there needs to be more time in training, then I will certainly support that.
So you're saying the reduction was about language, not about ...
As it's been explained to me, the amount of time that was added on for some agents was because they needed to be able to increase their language skills, not their basic law enforcement training that they have been through.
Does the overall level of experience of this agency trouble you in any way, because as it's expanded the average experience level has gone down, of course.
There isn't a police department or a law enforcement agency in the country that has not had difficulty when they've expanded with large numbers. Washington, D.C., many years ago, is an excellent example. The city of Miami is an excellent example. A number of problems — because you're hiring quickly, you're not always spending as much time doing the backgrounds at the level of detail that perhaps you should. The training can be compressed, or the training can be a bit more rapid, and frankly you're putting a lot of people into the field that don't have as much experience. So when I worked for Janet Reno, when she was the attorney general, she was given money by Congress and told to hire agents quickly. And she went in front of Congress with a professor by the name of Ed Delottra(ph), who said that, and she did, she said you can give me the money and you can demand that I hire people very quickly. I'm not going to do it until I'm certain that they have been properly screened and properly trained. Unfortunately that was not the decision made a number of years ago when the Border Patrol began that rapid expansion.
2004, 2005, you're now talking about.
The money was provided, people were hired very quickly and at times that can cause difficulties, as we know from other agencies across the country.
Is that part of your problem now?
I don't know if it's as much of a problem today because people, actually, the level of experience and knowledge has steadily increased. The number of people because of difficult job situations, the quality of the people being hired and their background, they're sometimes a little bit older, more mature, they've been through other life experiences.
Oh, the tough economy was good for recruitment, is that what you're saying?
The tough economy is very good for law enforcement recruitment. I remember in Seattle, one officer is a Yale Law graduate, riding with his partner, who was a Case Western law graduate, and it was always kind of humorous because if they got stopped and somebody was unhappy with them and told them, "Well, you don't really know the law." So it is good for law enforcement recruitment.
Do you see yourself as needing to change the culture of this agency?
I think the agency itself sees the need to change the culture, and the best example I would give you is that there's a long and richly deserved history of agents being very much alone on the border with backup being, or support being very far away. Now there are a lot of agents on the border, they work in teams, and you have to change the way you think about law enforcement when you move from that solo position to one involving having additional support.
Do agree that there's a culture of secrecy within the CBP?
I don't agree. I have sat down with dozens and dozens of Border Patrol agents from the northern border to the southwest with their leadership, et cetera. These folks have a great story to tell. I mean, they are saving lives every single day. They are being assaulted on a regular basis. Those days of apprehending 20 people coming across the border and all of them following you to be processed, those days don't really exist. People, we see people armed all the time. We see people flee. We see people fight or assault. These agents have a great story to tell; unfortunately we haven't been very good at telling that part of the story.
I think that there is a certain sense in law enforcement that if we just keep our heads down, all of this will go away — meaning media scrutiny and non-governmental organizations. That doesn't happen, and it doesn't happen in this media or this political environment anymore. And we need to be much better at telling the story, but we also need to be better at explaining what we do. And frankly we need to be better at admitting when we're wrong or where we've made a mistake.
Has the political environment specifically contributed to some of that keeping the head down? I mean, you guys are in the middle of one huge news story after another. I mean, major issues as well as news stories.
I think that it's not as much the political environment as the culture of law enforcement. Oftentimes it's pretty easy to believe that the public doesn't support you, or they'll never understand what you do. And frankly that's not true. If you look at the Gallup poll, local law enforcement, year after year after year, even the year of the Rodney King incident, local law enforcement has far better trust and credibility than just about any other institution in America.
I think, one, they're very close to the people. I mean, they're very visible, you know they're pretty easily recognized, they've got an easy-to-remember phone number. And they do. We would do surveys of people who had encounters with Seattle police officers, even people we had arrested, and it was amazing the amount of support that came through.
I didn't do scientific surveys, but I drove the whole length of the border and I'm not sure I got that same sense of trust in the Border Patrol from one end of the border to the other.
Oh, I think we can do a better job, and I think there are people that don't trust law enforcement or don't trust the Border Patrol, or have had an encounter. I tell you that I've just looked at 49 cases of women who've been apprehended in this most recent surge in the border — 49 women who felt confident enough or comfortable enough to tell the Border Patrol agent that they had been sexually assaulted. We know that sexual assault is probably one of the — if not the most underreported crime there is. I think, I was very heartened by the fact that these women came forward to tell the Border Patrol agent in uniform that they had been assaulted and they wanted help and they wanted to let him or her know what had happened.
That's a report you asked for, information you asked for?
I see the reports on sexual assaults that are reported to our agents or incidents involving children, et cetera. I've seen the way those agents are treating children on the border and the way they're dealing with that large influx. And I'm very impressed with the way they're dealing with them.
I'm glad you mentioned the surge recently. I want to ask a question or two about that before I let you go. My colleague, John Burnett, whose reports you may have also heard — he's covered the border for a long time — he's working on a story right now that relates to a number of — you probably are familiar with this — a number of immigrants' rights groups, ACLU and some other groups, complained of 116 instances in which minors said they were subject to abusive treatment while in Border Patrol custody, being told offensive things, being put in excessively uncomfortable rooms, being left with the lights on all night so that they couldn't sleep, being denied medical care. These were the claims that were made. Have you been tracking those complaints?
I looked at every one, a synopsis of every one of the 116 complaints. Those are being investigated, and I know that they're being divided up amongst the Department of Homeland Security leadership, the Office of Inspector General and our own internal affairs. But there are two things. One is that when I looked at all of the complaints, y'know, sleeping on a concrete floor is not anything any of us wanted to see, and to see a room the size of this office with 40 or 50 kids lying on the floor, covered in a blanket, waiting two and three and four days to be actually moved to a better facility, I know that we were overwhelmed. The healthcare issues were important. We now have the Coast Guard corpsmen, the public health service down there, we have lots of folks doing a lot of things, but I watch those Border Patrol agents trying to microwave burritos for 150 or 200 people until the microwaves broke. We had to gear up pretty quickly. And so I looked at all of those complaints. What I did not see, other than several complaints of offensive language, I didn't see complaints of assault, or use of force. I didn't see complaints where the children or the women said they had been assaulted or hurt or sexually assaulted. But I think the complaints about the facility are absolutely spot-on.
Are you saying that many of these complaints, maybe even most of them, are just a function of so many people arriving so suddenly?
The ones that I've — 116, the reviews that I looked at, are very much what I would call a complaint about the environment, and I don't disagree with those complaints at all.
One of the complaints of offensive language was someone being told, "Welcome to Hell." I wonder if the agent actually thought he was making a true statement given the conditions.
Y'know, I think that we're going to have to be concerned about what those agents are seeing and doing. Craig Fugate, who's been around a few disasters in his career, after he visited there, he said, "You're going to have to do something for those agents." He said, "Every single day they are dealing with this huge" — they were, it's beginning to get a little better right now — but "this huge number of kids, little children, et cetera, looking up, wanting to be helped, oftentimes, sometimes, having illness, not having seen a doctor, et cetera." It takes a toll on those agents.
Now you've told me something I don't think I knew. You said the influx is getting a little better right now?
The numbers over the last week or so, and of course, I think we've seen this traditionally in the Border Patrol or in apprehensions because of the very hot weather, so the numbers are a little more flat. But it's still a significant problem.
So there was maybe a spring migration season, which is maybe ending, is that what you're saying?
I think it's very hard right now to estimate, and I would be very concerned that I wouldn't want to speculate whether this will go up, whether it will go down. But I know that we need the resources and we need the support of a lot of organizations besides Customs and Border Protection to deal with this problem.
This is the last thing I have. What does this current problem, this influx of so many women and children, among others, say about the complexity of the job that the Border Patrol has to do?
I think that in the past, when they worked very much by themselves, the apprehension of either people wanting to come to this country for all the traditional reasons that people want to come to America was very much bread and butter, and then of course the drug smuggling. Our appetite in this country for cocaine has decreased dramatically, and so have our apprehensions or our arrests of people smuggling cocaine into the country. This situation with the children and the women, I think is very different. They're not running, they're not hiding, they're not trying to escape, and in fact, the coyotes that bring them over tell them or give them instructions to approach the person in the green uniform and turn yourself in. And that's what we're seeing. I think it tells you a lot about the complexity of the international situations, and it tells you a lot about the complexity of immigration, the need for comprehensive immigration reform is critical, and I'll tell you I'm a huge admirer of what the Border Patrol agents are doing.