The problems underlying CPB’s almost theatrical failures trace all the way back to its creation amid the post-9/11 reorganization of the Department of Homeland Security and have been exacerbated by a longstanding failure of leadership that extends up to both Congress and the White House and has lasted through three administrations. Both the modern Border Patrol and its parent CBP have been plagued by poor leadership and management at all levels, and by recruiting challenges that have left them with a subpar, overstressed workforce and a long-running toxic culture. Most deeply, however, they are plagued today by a huge and unresolved mismatch between the agency’s founding identity and its current mission.
Most Border Patrol agents serving today signed up for a tough job in a quasi-military agency protecting the country against terrorists and drug dealers. They’ve found themselves instead serving as a more mundane humanitarian agency—the nation’s front-line greeter for families of migrants all too happy to surrender themselves after crossing the border. CPB doesn’t have the culture to meet this challenge, nor does it have the manpower or support from the rest of government. The latest bad headlines have come even as the promises made by candidate Donald Trump to invest in the Border Patrol have not been fulfilled; far from an increase of thousands of agents, the agency is actually now smaller than it was under Barack Obama. As one former Border Patrol union official told me, “Trump is not delivering.”