McALLEN, Texas — A U.S. Border Patrol manager in the Tucson, Arizona, sector has forbidden agents from bringing cellphones or any electronic devices to work after photographs were leaked several weeks ago showing some of the hundreds of children being housed at the overcrowded Nogales processing center. But according to a union representative, the manager’s actions violate established, collectively-bargained guidelines.
Only a month ago, the agents were allowed to carry their personal cellphones at work to make calls if radio communications went down.
Border Patrol agents in Nogales, Arizona, have also been banned from speaking to the media and have been advised by their manager to refer reporters to the department’s official representatives, an agent told TheBlaze on the condition of anonymity. Like in Arizona, Texas Border Patrol agents have also been told not to speak to the media after similar photos of overcrowded conditions at their facilities were made public. Agents across the country have been threatened with disciplinary action, termination and in one case, criminal charges for getting caught speaking to reporters.
In Nogales, it was the patrol agent in charge, Leslie Lawson, who issued the ban on electronic devices. But Shawn Moran, spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council — the union that represents Border Patrol agents — said a patrol agent in charge does not have the authority to circumvent the union-bargaining process on cellphone usage, and that the only person who can change that policy is a sector chief, and the collective bargaining process still applies.
“If the Tucson local feels there’s a violation of our collective bargaining agreement then they can file the appropriate grievance,” Moran told TheBlaze. “If there’s a violation I hope they do, our locals are not afraid to litigate these matters.”
A Dec. 2, 2008 memorandum of understanding issued by former Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar to all station chiefs states that “policy does not prohibit personal wireless communication devices while performing official duties, but limits the usage.”
The memorandum, obtained by TheBlaze, does not include restricting photographs.
“Removal of the phones also has potential for impacting operations because if the agents in the field need transportation or backup they sometimes can’t rely on their radios because all the channels are busy,” a Border Patrol agent in the Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas told TheBlaze. “Agents rely on their phones for work throughout the day.”
TheBlaze obtained multiple photos of some undocumented minors being detained in overcrowded holding cells at other facilities. The locations of the holding cells are being withheld so as to not reveal the possible identities of their sources.
As for supervisors threatening criminal charges or disciplinary action, it’s “a scare tactic to get the agents not to speak reporters — they can threaten anything they want but it doesn’t mean they will actually succeed in doing it,” said Albert Spratte, a National Border Patrol Council union representative for the Local 3307 in McAllen.
“They don’t want agents talking to the media or showing what’s really going on with these kids,” the Border Patrol agent said, noting that there was no way to hide the roughly 47,000 children who have poured over the border since January. “We’re in a huge mess on the border and the administration couldn’t hide it. We haven’t been allowed to enforce our own immigration laws and now we can’t stop this flow of kids or adults for that matter.”
Agents say they are frustrated by the lack of support from the administration, whose policies they say are working against the agents. The influx of thousands of children has strained the agency’s ability to do its job of protecting the border creating a dangerous national security challenge along the porous border. Agents who spoke with TheBlaze said they are also concerned about the conditions the children are enduring at the holding facilities.
“It seems like they just don’t want us to send the illegal aliens back home and now the kids are paying a high price, putting their lives in danger to get to here,” said another Border Patrol agent who works along the southwest border. “The administration will do everything they can to keep them here.”
Follow Sara A. Carter (@SaraCarterDC) on Twitter