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Understanding The Border Patrol


ProPublica has uncovered private Facebook posts by current and former Border Patrol agents containing insulting and vulgar remarks about migrants and lawmakers. CNN has emails describing an attempt by CBP agents to humiliate a migrant by making him hold a sign saying he liked men. So the spotlight's been on the Border Patrol, at the moment, and the men and women who work there. And according to David Cortez, a Notre Dame professor of Latino studies and political science who's studied the Border Patrol, it's a demographically surprising agency.

DAVID CORTEZ: Today Latinos make up nearly 30% of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and 50% of Border Patrol, so they find themselves - you know, it raises this interesting kind of dilemma about Latinos actually policing an act that without which they would not be in the position they are today. And for most of these men and women, they find themselves coming face to face with men, women and children who, you know, might remind them of their own children, who look and talk, sound like they do or whose stories kind of mirror those of their own families.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Someone might think that a Latino Border Patrol agent would be more sympathetic to immigrants coming from Latin America. So when you were studying Border Patrol agents and talking to them, what did they say about that?

CORTEZ: Well - so these agents actually do, from my experience, from my research, find themselves connected with the people that they encounter. But for many of them, this job is not necessarily about stopping immigration. This isn't about their dedication to immigration law or their dedication to keeping migrants from crossing the border illicitly or anything like that. This is about economic self-interest. This is about survival.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because a lot of the Border Patrol agents are recruited from the border areas, and many of the border areas are very economically depressed.

CORTEZ: Yeah, exactly. And so we might look at this - and that's, I think, what's so tragic about this kind of broader story, is that the stories of the Latinos who enter immigration law enforcement parallel so strongly the stories of the men and women who are trying to come to this country and willing to do anything to get here in order to provide for their own families.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Border Patrol is there to enforce the United States' borders, which is important for any country. Borders are places where lots of things happen - some of it criminal. How would you enforce a border then?

CORTEZ: So this is actually a really funny question because I asked this of every single agent that I spoke with. And what I found was that agents are kind of split down the middle on this. More than half - actually, around 53% of the agents that I spoke with, I would categorize as liberal immigration policy advocates. And so what this meant was that they said, sure, we need immigration control on the border. We need the Border Patrol to intercept people who are crossing in real-time. But what we really need is comprehensive immigration reform of the legal avenues for coming to this country. Each and every one of them would say the system is broken.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: David Cortez is a professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Thank you so much.

CORTEZ: Thank you, Lulu. It was a pleasure to be on with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.