A new report from Families for Freedom (FFF) in collaboration with New York University (NYU) Immigrant Rights Clinic found U.S. Border Patrol agents are encouraged to apprehend immigrants through various incentive programs.
FFF, a New York-based defense network by and for immigrants facing deportation, obtained data from the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) station in Rochester, New York and the Buffalo Sector through a Freedom of Information lawsuit.
According to the report this is the first public data on USBP discretionary bonus programs that include cash bonuses, vacation awards, and distribution of gift cards to border patrol agents from Home Depot and Macys. Data shows bonuses reached up to $2,500 a year per agent.
The report also found close to 300 cases of wrongful arrests have been reported, the vast majority are people of color from Africa, South and East Asia, and the Caribbean.
Below is a summary of key findings from the report “Uncovering USBP: Bonus Programs for United States Border Patrol Agents and the Arrest of Lawfully Present Individuals [PDF]:
USBP uses three different bonus programs to reward its agents. The programs include cash bonuses, vacation awards and distribution of gift cards of up to $100. As part of the settlement of our case, CBP gave us tallies for each of these for the Buffalo Sector (which covers northern New York). We also obtained the documents for approving the cash and time off awards, which provide no justification for which agents are awarded year‐end bonuses of up to $2,500 or 40 hours of vacation time. The sums spent on these programs in the Buffalo Sector alone amount to over $200,000 a year. The gift card program, which was not funded in 2009, resumed in 2010.
USBP has adopted a protocol for documenting arrests of individuals who are later determined to have legal status. Through FFF’s lawsuit, we obtained copies of forms - called “I‐44” forms - for persons arrested by agents at the Rochester Station. An analysis of those forms shows that the vast majority of those wrongfully arrested were from South Asian, East Asian, African, and Carribean backgrounds. In just one program (train and bus arrests) in one station, almost 300 persons who had a form of legal status were arrested and transported to USBP offices prior to being released. The actual number is probably far higher because CBP did not formally instruct its agents to document these arrests until June 2010. These legally present individuals include 12 U.S. citizens, 52 Legal Permanent Residents, 28 tourist visa holders, 37 student visa holders, 39 work visa holders, 51 individuals in immigration proceedings, 26 with pending immigration applications, and 32 individuals that had been granted asylum, withholding or temporary protective status. Eleven individuals had other forms of status, including diplomatic visas, special visas for victims of domestic violence, and special status provided to the citizens of former US territories. Many of these people were arrested because of USBP database errors. The report includes stories about the experiences of these people, including those who are arrested in the middle of the night, and many who are forced to depend on family or employers to fax documents to USBP in order to be released.
Contrary to sworn statements submitted in the federal district court stating that the agency did not maintain an array of arrest statistics, including annual totals for the Rochester Station, the depositions ordered by the Court revealed that arrest statistics are the primary measure employed by local USBP stations and their Sector supervisors in the Buffalo Sector. The Agent in Charge in Rochester testified that recording the station’s daily arrest statistics and sending them to the Sector is the last job of the supervisor at the end of the day. The next morning, the Buffalo Sector office sends summary arrest statistics out to each station in time for each Patrol Agent in Charge to review when he first opens his e‐mail in the morning. Meanwhile, the Chief of Staff of USBP testified that the national office of USBP tracks arrest statistics and distributes reports through mass emails on a twice daily basis. The Agent in Charge for the Rochester Station, which is the subject of much of the data in this report, stated that the Station does not keep any other regular measure of performance.
The documents show that USBP agents act on the assumption that no matter where they operate within the United States, they may arrest any noncitizen—whether a tourist or a long‐term legal resident with a driver’s license—whenever that person is not carrying detailed documentation that provides proof of status. But USBP’s records also show that the agents are not genuinely interested in what documents the law might require noncitizens to carry. Instead, USBP’s demand for “papers” is universal, resulting in an enforcement culture that maximizes arrest rates.
More on the gift card program:
The so‐called “On‐the‐Spot Award” program allows supervisors to award shopping gift cards at values up to $100 to agents under their supervision. The gift cards are for online shopping or commercial retailers such as Home Depot, and are purchased at the sector level and then distributed to each station. The total budget allocated to purchasing these gift cards reached a high in 2007. The program was defunded in 2010, but then resuscitated in 2011 at a budget of about $3000. These awards are given to individual agents on an ad hoc basis with no consistent documentation and no oversight from the agency headquarters.