Warning: Viewer discretion advised
A lot of focus lately has been on President Trump’s proposal to build a border wall. But John Oliver wanted to focus on a less-covered issue: The president’s call for 5,000 more US Border Patrol agents.
In a scathing segment on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” on Sunday, Oliver pointed out that the United States had already doubled its patrol agents in the late 2000s, during the Bush administration.
“In [one] moment, they are delivering aid and processing migrants. But later that same day, they may be chasing down drug traffickers. It’s a mixture between humanitarian work and law enforcement, and not everyone can do it,” Oliver said. “If you hire agents quickly and badly, that can actually leave us much less safe and have devastating consequences; and the reason we know this, we have been down this road before.”
Oliver criticized the methods by which the agency expanded its numbers in recent years, such as enticing applicants with ads on NASCAR cars and by producing dramatic anti-terrorism recruitment videos in a post-9/11 world.
“The big problem was, as they doubled in size, meeting, and maintaining their hiring quotas meant their screening process wasn’t always as strong as they could have been. It was only later in the search that the CBP started giving applicant polygraph tests, something that most other law enforcement agencies do,” Oliver said.
Oliver pointed to an MSNBC interview with the former head of internal affairs for the agency, who said more than half of those who cleared background checks failed polygraph tests, with the majority of those detailing criminal activity.
Oliver seized on some tidbits from the polygraph tests, including one applicant who said he smoked pot 20,000 times in 10 years — “kudos to that individual,” Oliver quipped.
The comedian also cited an interview with a veteran agent who previously told TV reporters that standards were lowered as the agency expanded.
“They cut back on Spanish and physical training — so the new standards affected agents’ ability to talk to the people they caught, and the ability to catch the people they wanted to talk to, which seemed like pretty essential facets of their job,” Oliver said.
He also pointed to several cases of misconduct alleged against agents hired in that spree, including two agents who were accused of performing a lewd act at a Cirque du Soleil show in California; an agent, Joel Luna, who had ties to the Gulf Cartel and was convicted recently of engaging in organized criminal activity; and the outrage that followed the 2012 fatal shooting of a 16-year-old Mexican boy at the border.
“Despite all of these warning signs, we’re about to embark upon another ambitious border patrol hiring surge,” Oliver said.
Oliver said that the agency has claimed it has since made reforms, but he didn’t seem convinced those changes were enough.
“The problem is, many other reforms have not been made and it is hard to believe that they will be” under Trump, Oliver said. “Worriedly, there has already been talk that hiring standard might drop again, with suggestions like shorter polygraphs, or removing parts of the entrance exam.”
He also pointed to a recent report from the inspector general of homeland security that “questions whether we even need 5,000 more border patrol agents.”
“Trump seems determined to do this anyway. Who knows why? There’s a very good chance he only said 5,000 because somebody told him five bazillion is not a real number,” Oliver joked.
He ended the episode with a general plea: “For the sake of absolutely everybody — if we are going to hire all these new people, the very least we can do is be more careful this time around.”