Current and former Border Patrol agents said field offices around the country began receiving the order last month - soon after the Obama administration announced that to ease an overburdened immigration system, it would allow many illegal immigrants to remain in the country while it focuses on deporting those who have committed crimes.But, that is roughly one-third to one-half of their arrests, and now agents are just doing crossword puzzles:
The order has not been made public, but two agents described it to the AP on condition of because the government does not authorize them to speak to the media. The union that represents Border Patrol agents planned to issue a news release about the change Monday.
"Orders have been sent out from Border Patrol headquarters in Washington, D.C., to Border Patrol sectors nationwide that checks of transportation hubs and systems located away from the southwest border of the United States will only be conducted if there is intelligence indicating a threat," the release says.
[Of] 673 arrests in the sector, roughly 200 were from routine transportation checks, according to a Washington state-based Border Patrol agent who has been with the agency for more than 20 years and spoke to the AP.Well, the report keeps talking about 'border enforcement' but it's really just 'service enforcement' the kind that Alabama and Arizona want to do. If you are here legally, then consume goods and services. Be prepared for a challenge for your identification. I'm not in favor or 'border enforcement' as much as I am for 'service enforcement.' Let anyone come here legally, just check their ID at every transaction. Does President Obama want to let terrorists roam the country? Or what is his motivation? I don't know, and I don't care. I just want the administration to enforce the laws.
Until receiving the new directive, the Bellingham office, about 25 miles from the Canadian border, kept agents at the bus and train station, and at the local airport 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Now, the agents have little work to do, the agent said.
The situation is similar in upstate New York, where an agent told the AP - also on the condition of anonymity - that a senior manager relayed the new directive during a morning roll call last month. Since then, instead of checking buses or trains, agents have spent shifts sitting in their vehicles gazing out at Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, where few illegal immigrants cross.
"They're already bored," the agent said. "You grab the paper every day and you go do the crossword."
In the Buffalo sector, where there were more than 2,400 arrests in fiscal 2010, as many as half were from routine transportation checks, the agent estimated.
The change was immediately obvious to Jack Barker, who manages the Greyhound and Trailways bus station in Rochester, N.Y. For the past six years, he said, Border Patrol agents boarded nearly every bus in and out of the station looking for illegal immigrants.
Gene Davis, a retired deputy chief in the Border Patrol's sector in Blaine, Wash., emphasized how effective the checks can be. He noted that a check of the Bellingham bus station in 1997 yielded an arrest of Palestinian Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer. Abu Mezer skipped out on a $5,000 bond - only to turn up later in Brooklyn, where New York police shot him as he prepared to bomb the city's subway system. Davis also noted that would-be millennium bomb suspect Ahmed Ressam was arrested at the border in late 1999 when he left a ferry from British Columbia to Washington in a rented car full of explosives.
"We've had two terrorists who have come through the northern border here. To put these restraints on agents being able to talk to people is just ridiculous," Davis said. "Abu Mezer got out, but that just shows you the potential that's there with the transportation checks."
The Border Patrol informed officials at the Bellingham airport on Thursday that from now on they would only be allowed to come to the airport "if there's an action that needs their assistance," said airport manager Daniel Zenk.
"I'm shocked," Zenk said. "We welcome the security presence the Border Patrol provides."