ARIZONA– Today, dear readers, I bring you a story that is as important as it is disturbing. There is a large group of people at the southern border that is being grotesquely ignored and mistreated. The worst part about this is that they are some of the most important people to our nation’s security.
The mission of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is to defend the country against enemies that can enter the US, whether that enemy is a person, conveyance, drugs, or the like. CBP is a major part of the front line of homeland security.
CBP is its own entity: While Border Patrol patrols the areas in between points of entry into the United States along the borders, CBP Customs Officer and Agriculture Specialists are responsible for the actual ports of entry, including airports.
This week, I was able to speak with the President of the Arizona chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union, Patricia Cramer. Cramer told me some things happening at the southern border that are beyond disappointing, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.
“The agency [CBP] is failing us. They are failing their front line officers, the entire Office of Field Operations (OFO).
They’re there- they show up to work, pandemic or not, and right now the agency is failing so much in protecting them. We are showing up to do what they call the mission, but they’re failing the mission themselves.”
Cramer is referring to the fact that officers at the ports of entry have their hands tied in how much they can protect the communities from COVID-19, as well as how much they can protect themselves.
While they are finally able to do their jobs in disallowing Mexican nationals to go back and forth over the border for non-essential travel, it’s now US citizens and green card holders that are causing a problem.
As things currently stand, CBP officers can’t deny entry to the country to citizens and green card holders, which makes sense in and of itself. However, this is clearly not an ordinary time. This is an unprecedented time in our country, really in our world; we are having to do things differently in order to keep our officers and communities safe.
“We need local and state officers to do their part and help us in stopping non-essential travel. Workers cross the border of course, that’s essential, but that’s around 8am.
After that, when there are hundreds of cars in line to get across the border around noon, that’s people going to get tacos, haircuts, groceries, or visiting their families. The officers working the front lines there can confirm that- they’re not all going to work at all times of the day.
That’s non-essential travel, and that’s what putting us even more at risk.
It’s the US citizens at this point, that’s what the biggest problem is. Them and green card holders, they’re not taking this virus or the lockdown orders seriously. They’re exposing customs officers as well as entire communities.”
Cramer pointed out that Mexico is getting strict about who comes and goes, much more so than the US. To her, that’s outrageous:
“Mexico has surprisingly gotten stricter. They’ve adjusted their hours of operations. If Mexico can adjust their hours and get stricter during this time, why can’t the United States of America?
Why can’t we take the initiative first? Why wouldn’t we be the ones that say, ‘Hey, we are going to cut down hours, we’re going to keep our people safe. We are going to tell the community that right now isn’t the time to go get tacos.’”
In a video, the Mexican Consulate put out a message that says regardless of status, US Citizens and LPR (green card holders) need to be ready to come back to the US, or stay in Mexico, because Mexico is going to take action to close down the border.
Cramer suggested that a good way to encourage only people who are legitimately crossing into the country for essential work is by asking people to bring pay stubs from their employers.
This sounds like solid common sense. However, it appears as though the higher-ups in the CBP might not be acting with a lot of that to begin with.
Morale at the Arizona points of entry is quite low, and that’s not exactly surprising.
As Cramer put it:
“They’re treating us like cannon fodder.”
I don’t know about you, but that hurts me to hear that. It’s no secret that most agencies treat us, their rank and file officers, like we are just numbers. But to describe themselves as soldiers meant to be expendable during war is a horrible way to spend each and every day dedicated to the job. That’s not how I want the people who sacrifice so much for their country feeling day in and day out.
Aside from them not listening about ceasing non-essential travel at the border, the agency is also not taking the agents’ health and safety seriously.
According to Cramer:
“There are so many officers around each other at the ports of entry. They’re not helping us get time to distance from each other; they’re just bunching us up together. How can we practice social distancing when there are so many of us in one place?”
One way the agency was set up to assist in alleviating the high numbers of agents in one place at a time is “weather and safety leave.” Essentially what this means is that agents would be allowed some extra days off to be in the safety of their own home. It may be one extra day a week, once every two weeks, or once a month, depending on staffing levels.
As soon as they were granted this type of leave, Acting Department of Homeland Security Commissioner Mark Morgan stepped in and took it away.
“DHS does not put America first. Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan, he took away the little crumble of hope and boost of morale that our agents had.
The Acting Commissioner said he had to take away our weather and safety leave because Border Patrol wasn’t getting it. Border Patrol should be getting it too!”
So, instead of offering that crumble of a morale boost to Border Patrol too, the Acting Commissioner took is away from everyone. But why?
— CBP Arizona (@CBPArizona) April 7, 2020
According to DHS, Border Patrol is saying they need the additional staffing and help. However, not only has Cramer not heard that from any of the agents, but they have seen no evidence of that need.
In fact, in certain ports, traffic is going down. Officers at those ports, Cramer said, should absolutely be offered health leave:
“You’re doing everyone a favor when there are less people around. The agency says, ‘Oh, well what happens if threats or caravans come in?’ Well, that hasn’t happened yet. And if it does, you still have a lot of officers that can deal with it.
The agency just doesn’t think ahead. They don’t think of what happens if one of us gets the virus: That’s at least twenty of us that is out for two weeks or however long while we quarantine hoping not to get it ourselves.”
So what happens if the front line agents of our nation’s entry points start getting sick, and start going into quarantine?
Cramer’s answer to that question is chilling:
“There will be no national security.”
“They preach about the stake holders, how we have to help the communities. But how can we help the community if you‘re allowing people to cross back and forth for whatever they want to do, and you’re not protecting the agents on the frontlines?
It’s putting everyone more at risk. We are having cases pop up everywhere in our ports, in our airports. It’s going to spread if we don’t do something and get stricter at the border. It’s only a matter of time until this tidal wave is going to hit us.”
Additionally, CBP seems to have no plan in effect for what happens when/if one of the agents is infected with COVID-19. There is no preparation, no plan of action to replace officers who may become infected or be forced to quarantine.
— Director of Field Operations Guadalupe H. Ramirez (@DFOTucson) April 7, 2020
The agency can be, and should be, doing a lot more to protect those that protect our nation’s borders. So why aren’t they doing it? Why aren’t they doing everything they can to keep these agents safe and healthy?
According to Cramer, this is why:
“They care more about facilitating travel than about taking the pandemic seriously. They aren’t taking it seriously, they’re aren’t taking our safety seriously. And also, they’re not coming out to expose themselves along with us so they don’t understand.”
And yet, of course, the agents continue to show up to work every day. They, like the undersold heroes they are, continue to protect our communities and our nation from threats at ports of entry into our country.
Cramer told me:
“We took an oath to protect out countries. Of course we will keep showing up.
But our families did not. They didn’t take that oath, and yet they’re being put at risk. We all have spouses and kids, and they’re being put at risk as well.”
Cramer is Mexican herself. She was born in Arizona, but she lived in Mexico City for several years of her life. She spoke on Mexico City’s reporting of confirmed COVID-19 cases:
“How can we trust information that Mexico gives us? If you believe what Mexico says, that there are only 600 cases, you may as well believe in Santa Clause. There’s no way they only have 600 cases. We are dealing with a very corrupt government.”
Cramer has a feeling that President Trump isn’t getting all of the information that he should be getting from DHS. During a national emergency, there is no reason that agents shouldn’t be able to stop citizens from nonessential travel, yet they aren’t being directed, or allowed, to do so.
It makes sense, then, that the President would be given less information than what he perhaps should be told. The same could be said for Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who hasn’t done anything to help at the border either.
Of this, Cramer said:
“I think that we are failing the country. They are not putting America first. Our President believes that America should come first. He reiterates it and is so strong on that issue, but the agency doesn’t reinforce what the President believes. They don’t put America first.
The agency is failing the President, the country, and its agents.”
Cramer believes if she had the chance to talk to the Governor or the President, or if they heard of what’s going on, they would step in and assist our nation’s protectors at the southern border.
We at Law Enforcement Today are hoping that spreading the word on this major issue will get Cramer and the rest of the agents serving our nation the voice they desperately seek, the voice they more than deserve.
Please help us help them- be loud. Be vocal. Do your part, just like they are continuing to do theirs.
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