Law and order at the border

On Oct. 10, 2012, José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, 16 years old and unarmed, was shot 10 times from behind while walking in Nogales, Mexico, near the border fence that separates the city from Arizona. It took more than two years for the name of the Border Patrol agent who fired the shots, Lonnie Ray Swartz, to be disclosed under court order in a civil suit and almost another year before he was criminally indicted. This tragic story was told in detail in a New York Times Magazine article published in early March. On March 15 the Customs and Border Protection Integrity Advisory Panel submitted its final report to the Secretary of Homeland Security, a draft of which was obtained by The Los Angeles Times. The report concluded that the agency’s “discipline system is broken,” with far too much time passing between allegation and final resolution for it to serve as an effective deterrent to corruption and excessive use of force.

The Border Patrol employs more than 21,000 armed agents, having more than doubled in size since 2004. Its officers have been charged with corruption at a greater rate per capita than other federal law enforcement agencies, and a 2013 report concluded that in many instances, C.B.P.’s practices encouraged agents to use deadly force, instead of removing themselves from dangerous situations.

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When our politicians talk about the need to secure the border, it is important to remember this necessary goal cannot be accomplished simply by allocating extra resources or agents. The more pressing need—along with reasonable immigration reform—is for law enforcement activity at the border to be better managed, not just increased.

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