|Overwhelmed by desperate migrants and criticized for mistreating the people in their care, many agents have grown defensive, insular and bitter.|
One Border Patrol agent in Tucson said he had been called a “sellout” and a “kid killer.” In El Paso, an agent said he and his colleagues in uniform had avoided eating lunch together except at certain “BP friendly” restaurants because “there’s always the possibility of them spitting in your food.” An agent in Arizona quit last year out of frustration. “Caging people for a nonviolent activity,” he said, “started to eat away at me.”
For decades, the Border Patrol was a largely invisible security force. Along the southwestern border, its work was dusty and lonely. Between adrenaline-fueled chases, the shells of sunflower seeds piled up outside the windows of their idling pickup trucks. Agents called their slow-motion specialty “laying in” — hiding in the desert and brush for hours, to wait and watch, and watch and wait.
Two years ago, when President Trump entered the White House with a pledge to close the door on illegal immigration, all that changed. The nearly 20,000 agents of the Border Patrol became the leading edge of one of the most aggressive immigration crackdowns ever imposed in the United States.
No longer were they a quasi-military organization tasked primarily with intercepting drug runners and chasing smugglers. Their new focus was to block and detain hundreds of thousands of migrant families fleeing violence and extreme poverty — herding people into tents and cages, seizing children and sending their parents to jail, trying to spot those too sick to survive in the densely packed processing facilities along the border.
Ten migrants have died since September in the custody of the Border Patrol and its parent agency, Customs and Border Protection.
In recent months, the extreme overcrowding on the border has begun to ease, with migrants turned away and made to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed. Last week, the Supreme Court allowed the administration to close the door further, at least for now, by requiring migrants from countries outside Mexico to show they have already been denied refuge in another country before applying for asylum.