Safety and Security Lapses Found at Border Patrol Facilities, Says Inspector General

PHOTO: In this Jan. 4, 2016 photo, a U.S. Border Patrol agent patrols Sunland Park along the U.S.-Mexico border next to Ciudad Juarez, the New Mexico border town next to El Paso, Texas.Russell Contreras/AP Photo
In this Jan. 4, 2016 photo, a U.S. Border Patrol agent patrols Sunland Park along the U.S.-Mexico border next to Ciudad Juarez, the New Mexico border town next to El Paso, Texas.

Security issues were found at nearly all of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's remote facilities along the Southwest border, according to a Department of Homeland Security Inspector General report released to the public today.

Inspectors visited seven of the 11 facilities, known as “Forward Operating Bases,” in the El Paso, Rio Grande Valley and Tucson regions. Three of the 11 were not operational at the time of the inspection. Six of the seven facilities had security lapses, such as inoperable cameras as well as ongoing challenges with providing safe drinking water to personnel. One of the facilities also had inadequate living conditions, according to the report.

The operating bases are very remote CBP facilities built to reduce the response time for Border Patrol agents working in austere areas of the border region. They are also intended to increase law enforcement's presence in the area.

Four of the bases that were inspected didn’t have fully functioning closed-circuit security camera systems, which is required by CBP rules to allow agents on guard duty to monitor the facility and grounds.

For example, at one base a camera had been broken since August 2014, when a Border Patrol agent backed his car into the pole it was mounted on. The camera was still hadn’t been repaired at the time of the inspection in April 2015.

"Because of their proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, it is essential that FOBs are equipped with proper, functioning surveillance equipment,” the report stated.

The report also found that customs officials were not performing all the required inspections of the facilities and didn’t keep the necessary documentation of repairs.

“Without regular inspections and timely maintenance and repairs, CBP cannot ensure it will continue to provide adequate security, safety and living conditions,” read the report.

Providing safe drinking water has been an ongoing challenge in these remote locations, so CBP has had to add new filtration systems and drive in water. The Inspector General report found that the agency had addressed the issue at all of the seven bases.

CBP agreed with all of the recommendations made in the report and said it is taking the necessary steps to fix the problems, including camera repairs and upgrading fence gates.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is committed to ensuring the health and well-being of all employees, including those assigned to the remote Forward Operating Bases (FOB) that represent a vital component of Border Patrol operations,” said Michael Friel, CBP Director of Media.

The agency had already begun to take many of the steps needed, such as identifying water contamination and moving agents to a newly constructed facility while upgrades were being met, said Friel.