Bribes by U.S. border officials subject of probe

| Friday, September 13, 2002

The U.S. Treasury and Justice departments are investigating corruption by U.S. federal officials along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a two-part series on National Public Radio's (NPR) "All Things Considered" segment.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Customs Service and the Border Patrol are all under scrutiny. Records from INS and the Customs Service show both agencies combined open an average of 53 new corruption cases a year involving drug or alien smuggling and bribery, the report says.

Officials believe the probe is justified because the culture of drugs and pay-offs has permeated both sides of the border. Moreover, the size of the U.S. federal workforce along the border has tripled since the 1990s to about 15,000 inspectors and agents.

America's war on terrorism adds a national security dimension to the problem -- a corrupt agent may never know what's in the car or truck he waves across the border, the report says.

Most of those workers earn $50,000 to $60,000 a year, so it's hard to resist offers of $10,000 or more for waving a truck or car through the normal inspection process, the report says.

NPR tells of one El Paso, TX, police official who described the situation not as bad apples, but "bad barrels." However, veteran field investigators told NPR they believe the vast majority of the federal workers are honest, but one bad investigator can do a lot of harm.

To read or hear NPR's "Corruption at the Gates," part one and two, go to http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2002/sept/border_corruption/index.html

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