Audio and Video Leaks Show Border Patrol Agents Confronting Secretary of Homeland Security in Meetings :: WRAL.com

– Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was met with concern and frustration during meetings with US Border Patrol agents at several locations along the southern border last week, according to sources familiar with the talks and audio and video leaks.

Frustrations ranged from the Covid-19 pandemic to immigration policy and turned into open hostility at times, with one officer turning his back on the secretary and another questioning Mayorkas for wearing a jacket with the Border Patrol badge. .

During a meeting in Laredo, Texas, an agent asked the secretary when he had graduated from the Border Patrol Academy, according to three sources who heard the remarks.

The secretary replied no.

Then, “why” are you wearing the badge, the agent asked, according to a source’s recollection of the exchange.

The comments were part of a wave of frustration expressed by an often politicized workforce tasked with securing the border amid a rise in illegal crossings and a lingering pandemic.

During the visit, Mayorkas eighth to the border since taking office, he heard complaints from Border Patrol personnel about staffing issues, policies regarding the release of migrants after they were apprehended at the border and Covid-19 issues, including staff. members who did not want to be vaccinated and officers who were frustrated that migrants who arrive illegally were not required to be vaccinated, a source said.

Since taking office, the Biden administration has worked to significantly reduce the number of arrests for illegal entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, a measure of illegal border crossings.

The U.S. Border Patrol made 170,186 arrests in December, a slight increase from November, when border arrests began to climb again, according to the latest data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Mayorkas spent three days last week traveling in Arizona and Texas, where he met with DHS employees, received briefings on frontline operations and held stakeholder meetings with elected officials and others. .

During the busy trip he held business meetings in Yuma, Wellton, Clint, El Paso, Fort Bliss and Laredo and made several other stops for briefings. The trip included a boat trip on the Rio Grande with Border Patrol agents, a visit to the Laredo Port of Entry with Field Operations personnel, and an award ceremony for several Border Patrol agents. for rescues and other accomplishments.

“We could use extra staff, extra funds, and we’re really going to push for that,” Mayorkas told KGNS during his trip, referring to officers patrolling the waterways.

Mayorkas and his team, including Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, attended 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Border Patrol briefings known as rallies.

Hector Garza, president of the Laredo Border Patrol union chapter, told CNN that the “overall feeling” among officers was “a sense of frustration and concern for what is happening at the border,” pointing to issues of human and drug trafficking.

Part of the frustration is that due to the high number of illegal crossings, officers are forced to spend their time processing migrants rather than other law enforcement, such as drug trafficking prevention and the arrest of people with serious criminal records, according to Garza.

He also noted concerns expressed about frontline work during the pandemic.

“One of the biggest concerns that officers brought up at this meeting was that in times of a pandemic, of the Covid virus, where we’re trying to keep Americans at home and we’re trying to take all of these preventions in the country, these same preventions or these same measures are not put in place at the border,” he said.

“You can turn your back on me”

During a meeting with Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Arizona on the first day of the trip, one agent turned his back on the secretary.

At some point during the meeting, Mayorkas told the officer, “You can turn your back on me, but I’ll never turn my back on you,” according to audio obtained by the town hall and confirmed by a source who heard the words.

The agent replied that the secretary turned his back on him the day he was appointed.

Mayorkas appeared to refer to the tense meeting, later tweeting that he “heard the Border Patrol agents loud and clear” during the morning rally in Yuma. “They’re doing an amazing job on the front line. I’m fighting to get more resources that they need.”

DHS spokeswoman Marsha Espinosa said the Secretary’s “priority for this trip was to meet directly with the workforce to learn about their experiences and address their needs.”

“Border Patrol agents are dedicated to their mission and demonstrate extraordinary bravery and vital skill in the performance of their duties. Secretary Mayorkas welcomes candor in these conversations, and appreciates and respects the opinions of every member of the CBP workforce,” she said. .

Employees had suggestions for improvements and the secretary will soon act on some of them, according to Espinosa.

Low Morale at the Border Patrol

In video obtained by reporter Ali Bradley, Laredo officers are heard expressing concern about politics, low morale and retention in a tense exchange with Border Patrol Chief Ortiz, while Mayorkas was listening in the background.

Ortiz said “morale is at rock bottom,” according to the video, and called on agency members to “start taking care of each other.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked Monday about the leaked video and whether anything was being done to improve morale.

“Of course, the role that Border Patrol agents play in keeping our borders safe and secure is something that is highly valued in this administration,” she said.

“Politicians are never popular with the grassroots,” a former senior CBP official told CNN. “Mission has always come first, but in recent years mission has become political football.”

“Say what you want about [former President Donald] Trump, but his support for the BP mission has never been in doubt,” the former official added.

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