Veteran agent says border not secure

Veteran of US Border Patrol, union representative for National Border Patrol Council warns Congressional leaders

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A 13-year veteran of the U.S. Border Patrol and union representative for the National Border Patrol Council is warning Congressional leaders the border is not secure. The warning comes as Democrats and Republicans continue to spar with over the cause and remedy to the crisis.

"The union is concerned that there are criminals, and that there are drugs that are entering our country undetected and they are making their way into our communities," said Border Patrol Agent Hector Garza.

Garza said agents are being pulled away from patrolling the border to help process the thousands of Central American immigrants spilling into Texas. Garza said agents are also concerned many illegal immigrants are not being thoroughly screened before being released on their own recognizance due to a lack of detention space.

"They wanted the agents to speed up the processing and just to basically get the aliens out of here," said Garza. "They are sacrificing quality for quantity."

Garza said agents are also reporting seeing instances of diseases.

"Our agents are reporting they're seeing a lot of scabies, a lot of chicken pox, now they've reported they've also seen the swine flu," said Garza.

On Monday the secretary for the Department of Homeland Security said 150 Border Patrol agents were being moved into the Rio Grande Valley sector to help with staffing. Secretary Jeh Johnson also said an additional 60 investigators were being sent to offices in San Antonio and Houston to help crack down on smuggling operations bringing Central American children and adults into the U.S.

Democratic congressman Henry Cuellar met with Border Patrol agents at a closed door hearing in Laredo on Wednesday. Following that meeting Cuellar spoke with Local 2 Investigates and provided information the federal government has yet to release.

"I want you to write this down, it is costing between $400 and $500 a day to house an unaccompanied child," said Cuellar. "I now know why the president is asking for $2.3 billion."

Cuellar also said 500 people, family units, are being released every day between Laredo and the Valley because of a lack of detention space to hold them until their immigration hearings. Federal officials said several times they do not yet have statistics on how many illegal were released on their own recognizance due to a lack of detention space. During his trip to McAllen, Johnson would only state that "it was a large number."

Cuellar warned Congress has to act quickly to stem this crisis.

"If they don't see the magnitude of this situation and say, 'We got to do something together as bipartisan,' I don't know what's going to move it," said Cuellar.

Cuellar is also abdicating deporting Central American immigrants within 48 hours of being caught crossing the border. Cuellar said he believes illegal immigrants from non-contiguous countries should face the same procedures that illegal immigrants from Mexico and Canada face.

On Thursday Houston-area congressman Michael McCaul will hold a Congressional field hearing in McAllen to further investigate these issues. Gov. Rick Perry, the chief of the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector and the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety are among the witnesses scheduled to testify.

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