I Agree With DHS Overcrowding Report 100%, Border Agents' President Says

Jul 3, 2019
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security released a striking report yesterday. It details dangerous conditions, including severe overcrowding, in Border Patrol holding cells along the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, also this week, the news organization ProPublica exposed a secret Facebook group where current and former Border Patrol agents allegedly joked about migrant deaths and shared lewd comments and images about members of Congress. With me now to talk about all this is Brandon Judd. He's president of the National Border Patrol Council - that's a labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol staff and agents.

Good morning, Mr. Judd.

BRANDON JUDD: Good morning. How are you?

KING: Good, thanks. Thanks for being with us. So this report released yesterday by the DHS Office of the inspector general describes some ugly things - standing-room-only cells, where some detainees have been held for a week or more, detainees not having access to showers, kids not having access to hot meals. It is notable that this report comes from a nonpartisan body. it is a government watchdog. How do you respond to it?

JUDD: Oh, I agree with it 100%.

KING: You do? OK.

JUDD: Yeah. Our facilities, 100%, are absolutely overcrowded. When we're dealing with the number of people that are crossing the border right now, when we take them into custody, we have to take them back. We have to process them. We have to put them through a certain process to verify who they are, make sure that the children that they have with them are, in fact, their children. And then we have to wait for ICE or we have to wait for HHS to take these individuals off of our hands. If HHS and ICE doesn't take them off of our hands, then we have to hold them.

I mean, think about unaccompanied children that we take into our custody. If HHS - and that's Health and Human Services - if Health and Human Services do not come and take these children off of our hands, we can't just release them to the street. We have to hold them until the proper authorities come and take them off of our hands.

KING: You're saying there is, essentially, nothing that you can do about these conditions that people are being held in. Is that right?

JUDD: There's absolutely nothing we can do. We only have a finite amount of money that Congress appropriates to us for these facilities. I mean, when you look at this issue, this falls directly on Congress' lap. Congress is the body that determines the facilities that we have. Congress is the body that determines how we end up treating these children, how we treat the people in our custody. And so, again, we only can do with these individuals with the resources that we're given. And if Congress does not step up and do their job, what is it that anybody expects us to do? I'm lost about that.

KING: All right. Well, Congress has passed legislation, so hopefully that will be of some help to you. Congressional Democrats visited the border Monday. They described what they saw. I want to play you a clip of Representative Norma Torres of California.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NORMA TORRES: Some of the women told members of Congress that they were not being treated well, that there was no running water within the cells. And had members of Congress not insisted on going and stepping into those cells, we would have never found out, looking from the outside through a clear glass window, that there wasn't running water inside that facility, that the only running water that they had was coming out of a toilet.

KING: OK. In an editorial for Fox, you dismissed a similar claim from this congressional delegation. You called it propaganda. Does this nonpartisan report undercut your view?

JUDD: Wait - hold on. Hold on. Hold on.

KING: Go ahead.

JUDD: Let's be clear. I was talking about Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. So please do not say...

KING: Fair enough. Fair enough.

JUDD: ...That I dismissed everything that this congressional delegation said.

KING: Fair enough. We don't want to conflate the two. Let me shift here. I want to ask you about this secret Facebook group that involved current and former Border Patrol agents. According to reports from ProPublica, members of that group joked about migrant deaths. They shared racist, lewd, disgusting images. Border Patrol says they're investigating. What do you think should be done here?

JUDD: First off, we have to look at those three individuals that ProPublica identified. And those comments that those people - that those individuals stated, they're absolutely 100% inappropriate. But to paint the entire Border Patrol with this same brush due to what three individuals did is absolutely irresponsible. You know, this whole report that 9,500 people were part of this Facebook page - they haven't identified whether they're employees. They haven't identified whether they're Border Patrol agents or OFO officers or somebody else within CBP. Again...

KING: You're saying...

JUDD: Everybody's trying to paint this picture that it's every single Border Patrol agent. It was three people that they identified, and those three people must be held accountable for what they did.

KING: OK. OK.

JUDD: But don't try to say that it's every single Border Patrol agent because that untrue, and it's unfair.

KING: Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, thanks so much for speaking with us.

JUDD: Thank you.

KING: All right, I want to turn now to NPR's John Burnett - been covering this story from Texas. He heard the interview. John, let me ask you about this previously secret Facebook group. Does this present a big challenge to CPB's - CBP's reputation? You heard Brandon Judd arguing it was a handful of people.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: I mean, Noel, it couldn't have happened at a worse time because we have these congressional delegations that are visiting the stations. There was this very tough inspector general's report that came out that said that these are sort of inhumane conditions they're being held in. But, I mean, you mentioned - you know, there were 9,500 members on this Facebook group. There are 20,000 Border Patrol agents. Even if you have a lot of formers, that's a lot of members. But I do want to say, I know a number of agents personally. We talk. They're honorable. They do a really, really tough job. But the size of this group is hard to ignore.

KING: Briefly, John, in this inspector general's report, are there - is there a path to fixing these detention centers?

BURNETT: You know, there's actually a federal court order that, last week, a California federal judge - she was so alarmed by the scandal at the Clint Border Patrol station, where all these kids were held in these sad conditions, that she has told a mediator to work with the government for - and that there have been past violations of how CBP has taken care of kids in these facilities. And so the judge said don't hold the children for so long, and treat them more compassionately. So this didn't come out of nowhere. This has been a longstanding issue.

KING: NPR's John Burnett.

Thanks so much, John.

BURNETT: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.