Republicans Probing 'Potential Retaliation' Against Federal Agents Who Enforce Immigration Law

By Susan Jones | April 1, 2015 | 8:59am EDT

A CBP agent watches the Mexico-U.S. border in Imperial Valley, California. (Photo: U.S. Border Patrol/Gerald L. Nino)

( - Concerned about the alleged "mistreatment" of Border Patrol and other Homeland Security employees who are trying to enforce immigration law, Republican senators want to know how may DHS employees have been disciplined over the last six years for refusing to comply with the Obama administration's "prosecutorial discretion" policy.

"We write regarding potential retaliation against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel for upholding their oaths of office and faithfully discharging the duties of the offices in which they serve," eight Republicans said in a March 31 letter sent to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The Republicans pointed to President Obama's Feb. 25 remarks in an MSNBC/Telemundo interview, in which the president said:

"There may be individual (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials or Border Patrol who aren't paying attention to our new directives. But they're going to be answerable to the head of the Department of Homeland Security, because he's been very clear about what our priorities should be....If somebody is working for ICE and there is a policy and they don't follow the policy there are going to be consequences to it."

The Republicans say not only is Obama ignoring the plain language of the law by deferring deportation for millions of illegal immigrants, but he also seems to be threatening DHS personnel -- including ICE officals and Border Patrol agents who are trying to perform their duties.

"Indeed, we are aware of multiple allegations of targeting and retaliation against DHS personnel who refuse to comply with this Administration's willful disregard of our immigration laws," the senators wrote.

The senators specifically want to know how many DHS employees have been disciplined over the last six years, including through negative annual performance reviews, for refusing to comply with with department's lenient immigration policies.

They also want to know how many lawsuits or complaints DHS employees have filed over the last six years relating to the prosecutorial discretion policy; the "general nature" of each lawsuit or complaint; and the ultimate outcome.

The senators asked DHS to provide any guidance, written or oral, that it has given to DHS employees explaining how they will be disciplined for refusing to comply with the "administratively-created enforcement priorities."

And finally, the letter asks DHS to "describe the authority upon which your Department will rely to penalize Department personnel for their failure to comply with
an unlawful and unconstitutional order."

The letter is signed by Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), chairman of the immigration subcommittee; along with Sens. David Vitter (La.), David Perdue (Ga.), Charles Grassley (Iowa), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Tom Tillis (N.C.).

'Footprints in the sand'

In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on March 17, Chris Cabrera, a Border Patrol Agent in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, explained that a key metric in determining border security is the number of "got-aways." And he said those numbers are being minimized.

"If we know from footprints or video surveillance that 20 individuals crossed the border, we ultimately catch 10, obviously we know that we have 10 that got away. Now, when I first joined the Border Patrol, if I saw 20 sets of footprints in the sand, there was no argument. We were looking for 20 individuals.

But today, Cabrera said he must wait for a supervisor to "verify" the number of footprints.

"Agents who repeatedly report groups larger than 20 face retribution," Cabrera said. "Management will either take them out of the field and assign them to processing detainees at the station or assign them to a fixed position in low volume areas as punishment. Needless to say, agents got the message and now stay below this 20 person threshold, no matter the actual size of the group."

In their letter, the Republican senators asked DHS Secretary Johnson to submit the information they requested by the close of business on April 13.

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