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Tomorrow, the House will vote on HR 2213, which would allow Customs and Border Protection to waive the polygraph test requirement for certain new hires, while a Senate committee holds a hearing for an equivalent bill — the Boots on the Border Act authored by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Both reflect Donald Trump’s plan to quickly bolster the ranks of CBP and ICE officials by lowering application standards, including waiving the polygraph test.
Currently, some two-thirds of CBP applicants fail their polygraph exam, at least some presumably because they could not demonstrate that they would be fair agents who couldn’t be bought, bribed, or corrupted. In 2015, the Department of Homeland Security’s own CBP Integrity Advisory Panel recommended expanding polygraph tests to include post-employment interviews. Yet the Boots on the Border Act wants to remove this safety check – even though arguably no single law enforcement agency needs more scrutiny than Customs and Border Protection.
CBP agents, just like their ICE counterparts, are given enormous discretion and little oversight over their job duties. This includes dealing with the men, women, and children who cross into the US – as well anyone they feel like accosting anywhere within 100 miles of the border. Historically, they’ve not handled this responsibility well. Here are some things CBP has made headlines for in recent years:
If these are the headlines that CBP is generating at its current hiring standards, we should shudder at the thought of what might happen if those standards are relaxed.
Recent history provides a window into what that might look like. As the Atlantic wrote recently, CBP underwent a rapid hiring surge in the years after 9/11, similar to the kind of hiring surge Donald Trump wants today. At the time, CBP didn’t use polygraph tests to vet applicants, and some agents were sent into the field before background checks were complete, leaving veterans to mock the recruiting program as George W. Bush’s “No Trainee Left Behind” policy.
When CBP decided to clean up its house after corruption and excessive use of force complaints spiked, a polygraph exam was piloted – and immediately uncovered 30 applicants sent by cartels to infiltrate CBP. Though the polygraph is now administered for all new hires, it was not retroactively tested on those hired before the exam was required – and today, officials conservatively believe that 5% of CBP (about 1,000 agents) could be corrupt.
Apparently, Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration want to repeat history.