House votes to rename Sarita checkpoint for slain border agent


WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Tuesday evening to rename the Border Patrol checkpoint in Sarita on U.S. Highway 77 North in honor of the late U.S. Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega Jr., who was killed in 2014 by two undocumented immigrants.
The murder of the agent became something of a flashpoint in the 2016 presidential campaign because the perpetrators, who shot Vega during a botched robbery while he was off-duty fishing in Raymondville with his family, had been captured and freed under the “catch and release” immigration policy. The Trump Administration announced in the spring that it had ended the policy.

The vote was by voice — there was no debate under the suspension of the rules, which are House procedures for non-controversial legislation — and the bill will now go to President Donald Trump for his signature. U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, joined GOP members Reps. Mike McCaul of Austin and John Carter of Round Rock in sponsoring the legislation.
The bill, S. 1716, was sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. The Senate passed it in August.

“Agent Vega’s heroism certainly merits this honor,” Cornyn said Tuesday. “In addition to donning his uniform to serve our nation every day, Agent Vega paid the ultimate sacrifice while defending his family and community. His death was tragic, but I’m grateful this bill will now head to the President’s desk so that all who pass through the Sarita checkpoint can recognize his service and sacrifice.”
The lawmakers had also waged a campaign to reclassify Vega’s death as having come “in the line of duty” in order to give his family additional benefits. In September 2016, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection decided to do so.


Photo of the Day

U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel delivering supplies supporting FEMA relief efforts across Puerto Rico


United High School student recognized as CBP Officer For a Day

LAREDO, Texas (KGNS) – On Tuesday morning, one United High School student’s wish of becoming a Customs and Border Protection officer came true.

CBP and the Golden Heart Project recognized United High School sophomore and cancer survivor, Martin Alexis “Alex” Aviles as a CBP officer for a day.
During the tour at the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge, he learned more about the mission of CBP, the laws officers enforce and also saw the tools and technology that officers use on a daily basis to keep the border secure.

CBP Agents Rescuing Hurricane Victims in Puerto Rico

PUERTO RICO – While some are trying to leave Puerto Rico, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are at the island rescuing people in rural areas.
The agency’s BORSTAR and Special Response Team agents are conducting search and rescue operations in mountainous areas of the island.
A crew in a Black Hawk helicopter landed on a mountain top and stabilized three patients before taking off on another rescue mission.
It’s still unknown how many people those agents have rescued.

Border Patrol ventures to county fairs, country music festivals to recruit agents

Festival-goer Crystal Bridgers was intrigued by the recruiting booth.

“I was shocked that this was here,” she said. “I never really thought I’d get a job here.”

The agency — an arm of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — has struggled to hire the 5,000 agents President Trump requested to help secure the Mexican border. So the CBP got creative and is venturing into the heartland to Spartan Races, county fairs and country music festivals.


U.S. Border Patrol’s recruiting booth.

CBS News

“There’s a lot of people here, they love this country. You’ll see American flags scattered through every camp site you go to,” he said.

But the agency is also having a hard time finding applicants who can pass a polygraph test. By its own admission, 75 percent of them failed. The agency now offers a shorter polygraph test, and allows waivers from the test for law enforcement and the military.

“We looked at all the steps in the hiring process,” said Acting Deputy CBP Commissioner Ronald Vitiello.


Acting Deputy CBP Commissioner Ronald Vitiello

CBS News

“We’re looking for people who are looking to do important work on behalf of the country and protecting America and that can make it through the hiring steps,” he said.

But the last time Border Patrol aggressively increased recruiting, after 9/11, the CBP didn’t have polygraph tests. It was plagued by corrupt and violent agents.

Vitiello said that’s why finding the right recruits, who can handle the rigors of what can be a lonely and sometimes intense job, is crucial.

60 illegal immigrants locked in a frigid trailer rescued by Border Patrol

Sixty illegal immigrants who were comingled within a tractor holding produce were rescued by Rio Grande Valley Sector Border Patrol Agents on Saturday.  

Agents referred a tractor trailer driver to secondary inspection after a dog alerted officials to the people who were laying on and within pallets of broccoli.

The trailer’s doors were secured with a padlock and the subjects had no means of escape. The trailer’s temperature was 49 degrees Fahrenheit.

Medical attention was offered to the rescued aliens but all declined, officials said. They were transported to the Falfurrias Border Patrol Station and processed. The group consisted of 22 Guatemalans, 17 Mexicans, 13 Salvadorans and eight Hondurans.

The driver, a Guatemalan national, was arrested and is pending federal charges for alien smuggling.

Rio Grande Valley Sector Border Patrol urges immigrants against entrusting smugglers and warns against the dangers of crossing illegally into the U.S. through dangerous environmental conditions.


Q&A with Border Patrol Chief Ronald Vitiello

SAN ANTONIO—U.S. Border Patrol Chief Ronald Vitiello heads an agency in the midst of transformation.

President Donald Trump’s focus on combating illegal immigration has put a spotlight on the agency and its mission, even as apprehensions of people trying to illegally cross the southwest border have dropped in recent monthsMr. Trump has ordered the hiring of 5,000 additional agents, but the agency is struggling to fill the openings it already has.

Meanwhile, the president’s campaign promise to build a solid wall along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico faces legal and political obstacles. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly backed away from the idea of a continuous wall, although the government is accepting bids to design it. Chief Vitiello says it’s possible the government could double the 654 miles of fencing that already exists along the border.

Dallas-based Wall Street Journal reporter Dan Frosch caught up with Chief Vitiello in San Antonio at a border-security conference to ask him about the wall and why so many would-be border agents can’t pass a lie-detector test.

In terms of the wall, how much of a physical barrier or additional fencing would you like to see?

It will be a substantial amount. I can’t be precise with my answer. What we’ve done in response to the executive order and the [Homeland Security] secretary’s implementation memo is ask the field, the people who are closest to the problem, where they think a wall helps them do their job. We’ve gotten submissions based on that framework. I think it will be a lot.

When you say ‘a lot,’ are we talking double the 654 miles of fencing we already have?

It’s possible. We don’t have a precise plan yet. Just to clarify, we talk about a wall—we’re not talking about just the physical structure. We’re talking about access roads, we’re talking about easement to that wall…and all the technology that goes along with it.

Do you want to be able to see through the wall so you can see across the border?

It depends on where it’s at. At the immediate border, the fencing that we use now to maximum effect are versions of “see through,” so that is optimal if it is on the border itself.

Apprehensions have fallen dramatically. You could conceivably make the argument that the border is more under control now than it has been for a long time. What is the justification to bringing on 5,000 more agents?

Because the border’s not going away. That line—our responsibility to control and patrol that space—still exists. Right now, the mandate has changed—the executive order establishes “prevent all entry.” You could argue that 5,000 might not be enough to meet that standard. I’ve had a long career. I’ve seen the ebbs and flows of traffic. And it’s always been crippling to us, because people talk about arrests like that’s the only thing that happens. But those arrests are generated by criminal cartels, who send commodities and people to the border and bad things into the United States. That scenario isn’t going to change.

Is the drop an anomaly, or are we beginning to see a long-term trend?

Critics say the memo that was put out by the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection about the changes to the polygraph program…they say that is, in essence, lowering the standards. How do you respond?

I don’t agree. We met the mandate of the Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010 to make sure that all CBP law-enforcement personnel get a polygraph. But I think we built that program in haste, and I don’t think we built that program in the context of the need to hire people and beat the attrition. And now on top of that, we’ve been added 5,000 people. If somebody already has a federal polygraph, why would we want to do that again? If somebody already successfully applied to the Secret Service and passed a polygraph exam and didn’t get hired because they took another job somewhere else and now are applying to us, isn’t that just fine as long as there is not a lot of time lag in between? Prior law-enforcement officers, officers in the military who have a high security clearance who have to pass a rigid background exam to hold on to that clearance, those are the kind of things that the commissioner’s memo asks for discussion and relief on, and I think they’re appropriate.

And the alternative polygraph?

I think that’s an economization of resources. The bandwidth that CBP has to do many tests for many applicants is low. This test is rigorous and certified, but it’s a shorter test. There are fewer questions. We think it has merit. We’ll take a look at it. If the effect is the same, and they pass a certified federal polygraph, and it maintains our standard, I think it’s worth looking at.

Why do so many applicants fail the polygraph right now?

I don’t know. We struggle with this question…I’m not really sure. I think it’s a combination of things. You know, we have a standard for prior drug use for every applicant. It’s obviously critical in the work we ask our people to do. So I think some in our society, this generation of young people, believe they can’t admit to drug use if they want to be a law-enforcement officer. The fact is, the standard allows for illicit use but not addiction, sales or commercial use. People are afraid to admit their normal behavior and put that on paper. When they get in front of the exam, they then have to be shown a piece of paper that says “I’ve never done this,” and they sign under penalty of perjury. And on the polygraph exam, they end up admitting that wrongdoing.

Border Patrol chief: ‘If we do it right’ the wall will be ‘important’ and ‘effective’

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Ron Vitiello, who was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday, said that a border wall done “right” will be important and effective.

Vitiello takes office at a time when Border Patrol, which is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the face of many of the Trump administration’s policies on immigration enforcement.

Trump has repeatedly called for the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — a pillar of his campaign promises to stem the tide of drugs and people coming into the U.S.

The president’s executive order, signed at the end of January, calls for “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border,” to be monitored and supported by “adequate personnel” to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.

“Placement is important, where it is in relation to the actual boundary and then what kind of equipment and resources support it because in it of itself, it won’t do that job,” said Vitiello in an interview with ABC News.

He said that the agents on the ground are the most important part of the equation when it comes to border security.

“Somebody has to arrest the people who are going to continue to attempt to enter even if there is a border wall,” he said.

He added that the wall will also need the right surveillance technology and sensing equipment to let agents when where people are attempting to cross. It will be Border Patrol’s role to inform the administration about where it thinks the best locations are to begin construction and where a wall would be most useful along the border.

Vitiello, who began as a Border Patrol agent in 1985, said that the biggest challenge the agency faces is “to prepare ourselves to grow.”

“That’s always challenging to do that the right way,” said Vitiello.

The same executive order also called for the hiring of an additional 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents. All agents begin their career on the U.S.-Mexico border, which is where these new agents will be deployed.

According to Vitiello, Border Patrol is actually looking to hire around 6,700 agents, plus support staff, to first reach the congressional mandate of 21,370 agents and add an additional 5,000 on top of that. Border Patrol hasn’t had the minimum number required by Congress for a few years, said Vitiello.

During past hiring surges, Border Patrol has come under fire for ramping up too quickly, lowering standards and hiring underqualified agents.

“Our challenge is that we’re not hiring as fast as we do lose people to retirements and to other agencies,” he said.

At the same time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is trying to hire an additional 10,000 agents, mandated by executive order, and both agencies draw from a similar marketplace of applicants.

Vitiello said the agency looked at what happened in the past and found that the length of the time at the training academy was too short.

“We’ve made that adjustment and going forward to newer academy curriculum will be longer, they will stay there longer and learn more things before they leave,” he said.

He also said that DHS has committed to maintaining hiring standards, including all of the pass/failure requirements, all of the testing and the polygraph exams.

In February, DHS announced that from January to February, the flow of illegal border crossings, which is measured by apprehensions, at the U.S.-Mexico border dropped by 40 percent.

The trend is continuing into March, said Vitiello, who credited the drop to changes in enforcement policy.

Once the apparatus of the enforcement continuum was strengthened, it reduced the flow because people will not come to the U.S. if they cannot be successful in making it into the society, he said.

He said that while the drop began because of perception, changes in policy are now taking effect on the border, specifically, more people are now being detained while they await court dates, instead of let into the U.S. and asked to return on their own.

“I think the policies now support the perception that ‘you will not be successful’, so fewer will try,” he added.

Border Patrol chief pays visit

Says wall would be beneficial

Building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will enhance security and help agents in their mission, according to Ronald Vitiello, the national head of the U.S. Border Patrol.

“I’ve seen its impact and its effect on border security,” he said. “I believe that a barrier, a wall, will help us do our work. It will help these agents be better prepared and safer as they do that work, and it will reduce a lot of traffic that comes in from the south.”

Vitiello visited the Laredo Sector on Monday and spoke with the Laredo Morning Times about his visit to the Gateway City, where he began his career in 1985.

Vitiello’s nomination as U.S. Border Patrol chief came as President Donald J. Trump vowed to build a wall between Mexico and United States to try to stem the illegal flow of immigrants into the United States.

Following his nomination, the National Border Patrol Council released a statement saying he brings “invaluable” experience.

Last month, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said he was offended at the idea of building a wall in Laredo.

“Can you imagine going into the downtown area and seeing that? Any type of wall would be visibly unfriendly,” Saenz said. “Walls are meant to divide, and we don’t need any additional division.

“We do recognize that the border has to be secured, but not with a wall. It’s not a good idea.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, also said Trump’s order is offensive, especially considering that Trump signed it while Mexican secretaries were visiting Washington, D.C. to discuss NAFTA.

“If they push Mexico out of NAFTA, it will be the largest foreign policy mistake the U.S. has made in decades,” Cuellar said.

But Vitiello said he has seen the benefits of having a barrier when he was sector chief in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I’ve seen its benefits. My take is that the American public has always had a demand for border security. They’ve articulated (that) in different ways. This latest articulation was brought by the then-candidate, now president who said we’re going to build a wall,” he said.

Vitiello said he realized the wall is going to have an impact on Mexico and people who live along the border. But the relationship with Mexico, he said, “couldn’t be better” in the last five years. Border Patrol will continue to look for opportunities to work together with Mexico.

“It’s a physical structure that helps us do our work better. It helps protect the border better. It’s not without cost. It’s not without some impact and pain for folks, but the end goal is to have a safer border. I think we’re going to have that. That’s a good thing for Mexico and that’s a good thing for us,” the chief said.

Visiting Laredo

In order to be effective as the Border Patrol chief, Vitiello said he has to understand the challenges and issues facing agents in the field.

“The men and women in the field, they are sacrificing to protect America. They know more about what gets done and what needs to get done as it relates to Border Patrol and border security,” he said.

Concerns here are not that different from other locations he has visited. Some include limitations with equipment, training, access to the river and Carrizo cane, an invasive species that impedes law enforcement officers’ line of sight.

Vitiello says he brings “real dedication” to the agents and more than 30 years of experience.

“I think I have an opportunity to use that experience and that interest to make it better for the individual agents,” he said.

Now and then

Vitiello was sworn in as an agent Feb. 25, 1985, in Laredo.

“I wouldn’t trade a minute that I’ve had in the Border Patrol for any other career,” he said.

Changes, he said, have happened for the best. From using a typewriter to filing paperwork electronically, Vitiello said technology has played a key role in safeguarding America.

“We’re much more capable now than we were then, but the adversary is also much more violent and capable,” Vitiello said.

Powerful drug cartels can have unlimited resources at their disposal. They can buy top-of-the-line equipment to stay one step ahead of law enforcement and have the power to corrupt governments.

Supporting Border Patrol

Vitiello said that during the past 15 years, he has seen more and more Americans grow concerned about border security.

“When I was in the Border Patrol, most of the people that care how well the Border Patrol did were people who lived in border communities or Border Patrol agents,” Vitiello said. “Now, I think there are more stakeholders, more people interested in having a discussion about border security and supporting the Border Patrol and supporting the mission of protecting America.”

Link to original article

Honor First

Even though many generations have served since then, the words in this Commissioner’s description truly apply to today’s Agents.  I have been blessed to witness firsthand the selfless actions of Agents who continually strive to protect America.  For instance I recall a time I was in Laredo when we were tracking a group.  It was mid-August and quite hot and humid.  The group had crossed overnight and was on a route trying to circumvent the checkpoint.  It was clear to my partners and I that the group surely new they were being tracked.  They began to brush out, walk in circles and find rocky and hard terrain to walk on.  Further complicating matters, it was getting late and we wanted to finish this trail while it was still daylight.  As eluded to by the Commissioner just three of us were working this traffic and our success depended on our own skill.  At a point when the tracks were “missing”, my partner heard someone calling out we then realized that we had found the group.  We all rallied to a spot in a clump of mesquite and confronted a group of eight.  We announced our selves and ordered all to stop and place their hands up.  Two of the men disregarded our commands but only because their friend was unconscious on the ground beside them.  Without regard for the others we quickly addressed the man.  We laid him flat and ensured he had a clear airway.  His breathing was shallow and rushed.  We immediately radioed for an EMS unit.  We learned from the group that the man had run out of water earlier in the day and was barely able to keep up with the group.  Eventually he passed out and the others were trying to revive him and get him to drink.  While were caring and discussing his condition the man eventually stopped breathing.  Checking the pulse, finding none I then began chest compressions.  My partner immediately began to attempt mouth to mouth CPR.  The man revived momentarily, vomited and again stopped breathing.  Without regard for his own safety my partner cleared the mouth and began again.  Unfortunately our efforts did not bring the man back.  The Agent was even more frustrated than I.  The group was very sad but a few of them thanked us profusely.  These kinds of sacrifices and dedication resonate through my entire career.  This story is commonplace in the Patrol.  The men and women that do this challenging job do so for all of us and to serve this great country.  They regularly exceed expectations and most work hard and do well.  There work is largely unnoticed outside of their peers, yet they continue to uphold their oath and live the motto of “Honor First”.  They deserve our praise and the respect of their fellow citizens.  I’m proud to know them and blessed to be a leader amongst them.


Ronald D. Vitiello

Executive Assistant Commissioner

Operations Support