II. Allegations of Artificial Limits on Apprehensions
Bonner's second major contention was that the Border Patrol was suppressing or setting limits on the number of alien apprehensions. He claimed that agents were being told to sit in place and not apprehend aliens crossing through their area of responsibility; that agents were disciplined for leaving their area of responsibility to apprehend aliens; that supervisors were setting limits on the number of aliens who could be apprehended; and that roving patrols were eliminated in an effort to reduce apprehension statistics. No. 1922 supported these contentions, telling the Congressional subcommittee that he was told to sit in his vehicle while aliens ran over and around it. He claimed that he and other agents had been reprimanded for leaving their assigned areas to apprehend aliens. And he testified that agents were told to limit their apprehensions to no more than 200 per day or 25 per shift. If true, these allegations would undermine the legitimacy of the reported apprehension statistics and in turn call into question the validity of the Gatekeeper strategy.
These allegations were more challenging to investigate than those regarding report falsification. No paper trail existed to prove or disprove these allegations. While many of the facts underlying these allegations were not in dispute, the motives and intent of the supervisors involved were very much at issue.
As noted previously, the INS and the Border Patrol had a motive to understate the number of apprehensions. At the time Operation Gatekeeper was implemented, illegal immigration was an extremely controversial issue. Immigration issues played a central role in the November 1994 gubernatorial election in California, with candidates' calls for the implementation of a blockade-type deployment similar to the Hold the Line program in El Paso.
In the fall of 1994, Operation Gatekeeper was implemented at Imperial Beach, and in the first few months apprehensions at that station declined dramatically. In early 1995, however, apprehensions in the San Diego Sector began to rise compared to the same period a year earlier.91 Some members of Congress became impatient with INS and called for implementing a "Hold the Line" strategy in San Diego. As noted earlier, in an attempt to stave off Congressional interference in INS operations, Commissioner Meissner promised the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims that the Border Patrol would reduce apprehensions by 70 percent in the coming year.
While INS management had a clear motive to ensure that apprehension figures decreased, the impact of Commissioner Meissner's promise on supervisors at the individual stations was less clear. Although the FOSs (Field Operation Supervisors) and first-line supervisors were evaluated generally on their success in implementing the Gatekeeper plan, their evaluations did not specifically depend on apprehension numbers. Thus, in the absence of direct orders from their supervisors, they would not have any apparent motive to make it appear that illegal traffic was under control when it was not.92
The allegation that apprehension numbers were artificially limited forced us to probe the intent of those giving orders. Were they legitimately attempting to achieve deterrence - and as a consequence lower apprehension numbers - or were they merely aiming for lower apprehension numbers with no impact on deterrence?
To resolve this issue the OIG interviewed a broad range of witnesses across the Sector - 266 in total - regarding any possible artificial controls on apprehension levels. In addition, we reviewed thousands of documents outlining and discussing various strategic plans and observed actual deployments of personnel during border tours.
Because these allegations challenge deployment decisions and work rules, it is necessary for us to explain the overall strategy and deployment theory underlying Gatekeeper. We then address each of the specific allegations regarding limits on apprehensions.
A. The strategy of Operation Gatekeeper
The overall strategy for Operation Gatekeeper was to first gain control of illegal traffic at the Imperial Beach Station, which was responsible for the first five miles of the border east of the Pacific Ocean. Once Imperial Beach was under control, the Gatekeeper operation would be implemented station by station to the east until the entire Sector was under control. This process was expected to take five years.
The plan for implementing Operation Gatekeeper at Imperial Beach was prepared by the Imperial Beach Process Action Team. The team's plan had two primary goals: deterrence and movement. "Deterrence" meant that alien traffic would not attempt to enter the United States in the designated area. "Movement" meant that additional entry attempts would take place further east, in locations where the Border Patrol was believed to have a better chance at apprehending illegal entrants. The Border Patrol believed that if at least 85 percent of the aliens entering a given area were apprehended, illegal traffic would either cease entry attempts or at least seek alternative locations to attempt entry.
The Border Patrol hoped to achieve deterrence through the use of highly visible positions along the border, and by apprehending a large percentage of aliens who nonetheless attempted entry. The plan called for a multi-tiered deployment of agents and new physical resources, such as lights, sensors, fences, and nightscopes. The first line of defense was located adjacent to the border, and was designed to deter entrants, to apprehend entrants, and to permit the Border Patrol to re-deploy agents in locations where large-scale entry attempts appeared imminent. These positions also were intended to funnel traffic to crossing points that are more conducive to apprehension.
Agents deployed in positions behind the front line patrolled the most heavily traveled areas behind the first tier. These agents could adjust their positions in response to information obtained from front-line agents concerning movement of aliens. Their primary function was to apprehend aliens who had evaded the first tier. Imperial Beach Station initially employed a third tier of agents who were permitted even greater mobility to apprehend aliens who had passed the first two tiers.
In addition to deterring illegal traffic, the Border Patrol hoped that Operation Gatekeeper would induce persistent alien traffic to shift eastward - eventually past Otay Mountain - so that entry attempts would be made in areas where the Border Patrol believed it had a better opportunity to apprehend the alien traffic. This shift in traffic was to be accomplished by essentially eliminating entry at the most westerly locations. Alien traffic would be forced to move east or to cease efforts to enter.
The plan concentrated most of the Imperial Beach station's resources close to or directly along the border in designated areas of responsibility known as "Xs." Agents assigned to these positions were expected to maintain control of alien traffic in their assigned area. Their mobility was limited to the boundaries of their area of responsibility, and they no longer had responsibility for traffic outside their assigned areas.
Previously, agents had enjoyed significant autonomy in deciding where and how to control alien traffic. Other than station boundaries, there were essentially no limits on how far agents could pursue alien traffic. Gatekeeper significantly reduced agent autonomy. Supervisors now checked to make sure that agents were working in their assigned areas, and it was now supervisors, rather than agents, who determined the appropriate agent response to alien traffic. With the creation of the new stationary positions, many traditional assignments, such as downtown patrols, airport patrols, and station anti-smuggling units were eliminated, and the personnel in these units were transferred to the critical line positions.
In addition to these significant operational changes, the yardstick for gauging agent performance changed. Previously, Border Patrol agents were hopelessly out-manned each night, and control along the border was an unattainable goal. The primary objective was simply to apprehend as many aliens as possible. This approach provided an objective measurement of performance. Under Gatekeeper, deterrence, not apprehension, became the primary objective. Because deterrence cannot be measured objectively, the Border Patrol used apprehension figures as a surrogate for measuring deterrence. Under the new scheme, however, an increase in apprehensions was an unfavorable development because it suggested that the objective of deterrence was not being achieved, and vice versa. Striving for fewer rather than more apprehensions was a concept utterly inconsistent with the agents' training and experience. Supervisors likewise had little experience in motivating agents to practice deterrence.
These changes, particularly at Imperial Beach, came without much warning and with little training. Although the plan's broad objectives were described at musters, there was little or no training in what the new plan meant for individual agents. Agents who had operated in a certain fashion for many years suddenly were forced to work in completely new ways. Because first-line supervisors and (FOSs) received little training in how the plan was to be implemented, their instructions to agents differed. Some supervisors enforced mobility restrictions more strictly than others. Where and how an agent was to be positioned in his area of responsibility varied by supervisor. Agents no longer were certain what was expected of them and why. Some agents wondered whether the goal was fewer apprehensions at all costs, and concluded that if aliens were not deterred, they should not be apprehended. Communication between line agents and supervisors regarding these changes was sporadic and inadequate, and some line agents became suspicious of their supervisors' motives. It is against this backdrop that the allegations concerning limits on apprehensions arose.
B. Allegations that supervisors set limits on the number of aliens who could be apprehended in a day or on a particular shift
The allegation that supervisors set limits on apprehensions took two forms: (1) a general allegation that supervisors said apprehensions figures were too high - a statement that some agents interpreted as an instruction to stop apprehending aliens; and (2) a more specific allegation that supervisors set daily or shift limits on the number of apprehensions. Bonner alleged in the June 23, 1996, North County Times article that supervisors were ordering agents to "keep their arrests down." No. 1922 variously told Congress that limits of 200 aliens per day or 25 per shift had been set. Once these limits had been reached, agents allegedly were instructed not to apprehend additional aliens.
During our investigation, it became clear that supervisors had occasionally complained to agents that apprehension numbers were too high, and had made references to figures such as 200 apprehensions per day or 25 per shift. Witnesses differed, however, as to the import of these remarks. Bonner and No. 1922 claimed that they were intended to artificially suppress the number of apprehensions to make Gatekeeper "look good." Other witnesses claimed that supervisors' comments about high apprehension numbers were intended to motivate agents to work harder on deterrence, and that the figures mentioned were merely goals or benchmarks. They denied that there was any intent to limit apprehensions.
1. Allegations that supervisors told agents to reduce apprehensions
Seventy-two witnesses testified that they had said or had heard someone say that apprehension numbers were too high and should be reduced. Only seven of these witnesses, however - all of whom were from Imperial Beach - claimed that these comments were intended to convey that agents should stop apprehending aliens.
Bonner had no first-hand knowledge of anyone either saying apprehensions were too high or setting a limit for apprehensions. As with all of Bonner's testimony before the two subcommittees and to the OIG in August 1996, his allegations were based on second-hand information from witnesses whom he refused to identify.
No. 1922 claimed that one supervisor stated during musters that if apprehensions are too high, it "makes the Chief look bad." This agent further testified that supervisors said that agents were apprehending too many aliens and that he interpreted such remarks to mean that agents should ignore aliens they encountered. He admitted, however, that these same supervisors emphasized that the agents' job was primarily to deter aliens, not to catch them.
Another agent testified that at one muster a first-line supervisor - who appeared visibly upset - told agents that they were "catching too many goddam aliens" and that they would have to "figure out a way not to catch so many." The agent said he interpreted these comments to mean that agents should ignore aliens instead of apprehending them.
One agent said he "often heard" supervisors at musters say that apprehension numbers were too high and that agents should not be apprehending so many aliens. He claimed he could not recall the identity of any particular supervisor who made these comments, but contended that many agents interpreted these remarks to mean that they should not apprehend aliens. He also remembered that one supervisor said, "Washington does not want apprehensions, they want deterrence."
Another agent claimed that he had heard many supervisors say that apprehensions were too high and that these comments were intended to pressure agents not to apprehend aliens. He could not identify any of the supervisors who allegedly made these comments, however.
A Union official at Imperial Beach contended that "at just about every muster" agents were told that apprehension levels were too high. He said he interpreted these comments to mean that agents should not apprehend aliens. He believed that supervisors were under intense pressure to reduce apprehension numbers and that if "too many" aliens were apprehended, the supervisors would receive a personal call from the CPA or ACPA. He conceded, however, that these calls were most likely inquiries about why the deterrence strategy was not working, as opposed to instructions to force apprehension numbers down.
While it is clear that supervisors were concerned when apprehension numbers were high, and relayed their concerns to the agents, most line agents at Imperial Beach and Chula Vista testified that they did not interpret their supervisors' concerns as directions not to apprehend aliens. For example, one Imperial Beach agent said that when supervisors said they would do "whatever is necessary" to get apprehensions down, he interpreted this to mean that more Xs would be created along the border. Other line agents said that the supervisors' remarks concerning this problem merely indicated that the deterrence strategy was not working and that more agents were needed along the border. Still other agents said that they thought the supervisors were simply urging them to increase their visibility to deter alien traffic better or just to work harder on prevention. They said the supervisors told them to "tighten up" on the border when apprehension figures were high.
The vast majority of agents we interviewed did not interpret their supervisors' expressed concerns about high apprehension numbers as instructions that they should avoid apprehending aliens.93 These agents had no apparent motive to tailor their testimony on this point. Indeed, a number of these agents were hostile to Gatekeeper, and told us that they disapproved of the program's strategy.
Supervisors at Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, and Brown Field admitted saying or hearing other supervisors say that apprehension numbers were too high. These supervisors consistently testified, however, that no one said that agents should not apprehend aliens. The supervisors were simply trying to encourage agents to do a better job at deterring aliens. Comments that apprehension numbers were too high were made in conjunction with asking agents what could be done to prevent more of the aliens from entering.94 While Sector management made inquiries when apprehension numbers were high, we find that management never said or suggested that agents should not apprehend aliens who had illegally entered the country. Sector leaders also denied ever instructing station personnel to avoid making apprehensions. Finally, supervisors told us that they were not evaluated by the number of apprehensions on their shifts, and so felt no pressure to artificially lower apprehensions.
Supervisor after supervisor told us that they responded to high apprehension numbers by assigning additional agents to problem areas and by ensuring that agents assigned to high visibility positions maintained those positions to deter traffic. Their contemporaneous reports to their PAICs and to Sector management support their testimony. The daily shift and station reports we read, for example, repeatedly indicate that additional resources were directed toward areas experiencing a high volume of illegal traffic. One memorandum noted that because illegal traffic at Imperial Beach was heaviest between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. additional agents were being assigned to the line at this time. This memorandum went on to report that more agents were being assigned to the Virginia Street area during evening hours, when large numbers of aliens gathered there. Another memorandum indicated that Imperial Beach was increasing the number of fixed positions at two locations where illegal traffic was heavy. We discovered similar memoranda at other line stations. Our review indicates that once a problem area was identified, additional resources - such as the Bike Unit, the Horse Patrol, the ATV (All Terrain Vehicles) Unit, or air support - were assigned to that area. The initial impact of assigning these resources to such areas, of course, was to increase apprehension numbers.
In contrast to the wide variety of documents indicating that the stations were trying to deter illegal traffic and to apprehend as much of it as possible, we found no documents suggesting that agents were being told not to apprehend aliens. Similarly, we found no documents indicating that supervisors were willing to allow aliens to escape in order to reduce apprehension statistics. In the end, the only support for this allegation came from seven agents who testified that their supervisors' complaints about apprehension numbers led them to infer that they should ignore illegal traffic. In light of the overwhelming number of line agents and supervisors who testified that no such inference was intended or warranted and the substantial documentation contradicting any such inference, we find the inferences drawn by these seven witnesses unreasonable and unfounded. We therefore find this allegation unsubstantiated.
2. Allegations that supervisors set specific limits on apprehensions
Thirty-one witnesses testified that specific levels of apprehensions - such as 200 or 250 apprehensions a day, or 25 apprehensions a shift - were discussed by Border Patrol personnel. Three of these witnesses stated that they believed that these figures represented actual limits on apprehensions rather than merely goals or benchmarks.
In the June 1996 Harper's article about Operation Gatekeeper, an agent using the name "Hal"95 claimed that Imperial Beach supervisors had told agents to apprehend fewer aliens. "Hal" reported that if apprehensions at Imperial Beach exceeded 200 in a day, the Attorney General complained to the Commissioner who in turn called the CPA; "heads [then] start[ed] rolling" and "threats were made."96
One Union official alleged that a limit of 200 apprehensions a day at Imperial Beach had been imposed by someone in Washington. If apprehensions exceeded that figure, a report had to be made "to Washington." According to this witness, station heads did not enjoy writing such reports, so they communicated this limit to their supervisors, who in turn made it "happen miraculously" in the field. Once the station reached the 200 apprehension limit, it shut down. This witness believed that this limit applied only to Imperial Beach, and that it had been in place from the spring of 1996 through mid-summer 1996. He said he heard this allegation from approximately ten individuals, some of whom were Union officials. He declined to identify any of his sources, however.
When pressed as to how agents in the field were informed that the 200 apprehension limit had been reached, the witness changed his story and conceded that agents did not actually stop apprehending aliens. He then claimed that agents at the station - who knew how many aliens had been apprehended - stopped processing aliens and simply put them on buses.97 When asked to explain why the stations frequently reported apprehension numbers above the alleged limit, the witness responded that some slippage was allowed. He claimed, however, that when the station's figures approached a thousand in a day, agents stopped counting.
No. 1922 testified that:
Since Operation Gatekeeper started, I have heard many supervisors tell agents that they were catching too many illegal aliens. Agents were repeatedly told to limit the number of apprehensions of illegal aliens to no more than 200 per day. On more than one occasion, one of my supervisors directed that no more than 25 illegal aliens be apprehended during our eight-hour shift.
This agent asserted that 25 was a "magic number" which could not be exceeded. If apprehensions exceeded 25, agents had to "shuffle the numbers around."98 This agent did not specify any night that the limit was imposed or that the agents reached the limit and were told to stop apprehending aliens. He claimed further that if apprehensions were high, the Commissioner would call CPA Johnny Williams who would call the PAIC who in turn spoke to the supervisors. He said one supervisor told the agents that if they continued to apprehend 100 to 200 aliens per shift, "the Chief would look bad" and "heads would roll." Finally, he contended that one night in November 1996, a supervisor told the agents their mission was solely to prevent, so he wanted zero apprehensions for the shift. He claimed agents interpreted this to mean they should not apprehend any aliens.
The supervisor identified as setting the 25 apprehensions per shift limit said he had once said "in jest" that he only wanted 25 apprehensions for the shift. He also said he never told agents to stop apprehending aliens. We located only one other agent who recalled this supervisor's mentioning 25 aliens. He recalled that the supervisor said "it would be nice" if they only had 25 apprehensions on the shift. He did not perceive this as setting an upper limit on apprehensions. The PAIC denied ever hearing that the supervisor had set a limit of 25 apprehensions for his shift or chastising him for setting such a limit.
Only one other agent testified that a limit had been set on apprehensions. He reported hearing a rumor that if a particular unspecified limit was reached, any additional apprehended aliens were to be turned back south. He had no information, however, that this had actually occurred.
No other witness provided evidence indicating that agents were required to stop apprehending aliens once a set limit was reached. While others mentioned "magic numbers," they did not claim that apprehensions ceased after a particular number of aliens was apprehended. Several witnesses, however, thought that benchmark figures were used to pressure agents. For example, one Union official testified that there was a magic number of 200 for Imperial Beach, and that while supervisors never flatly told agents not to apprehend aliens, they made remarks such as the following: "we caught 100 people last night. That's way too many. We have to get those numbers down." A second Union official at Imperial Beach told us that a different supervisor announced a magic number of 50 apprehensions for his shift. He could not recall whether he had heard this directly from the supervisor or from someone else, however.
Other agents testified that they had heard rumors that if a certain number of aliens were apprehended, Washington officials made inquiries. One Imperial Beach Union official testified that at a muster in early 1996 an FOS stated that if more than 200 aliens were apprehended during a 24-hour period, "Washington, D.C." had to be informed. He did not know who in Washington received this notification or what, if any, effect such notification had. Another Union official said he was "positive" that if apprehensions increased, supervisors received calls.
Several supervisors at Imperial Beach acknowledged that figures of 200 or 250 were used as benchmarks or goals for daily apprehensions. This testimony was corroborated by a Sector document outlining Sector goals for fiscal year 1996 (which began October 1, 1995); the target set for Imperial Beach station was 250 or fewer apprehensions per day.99 They unanimously denied, however, that any limit on apprehensions was ever imposed. One first-line supervisor testified that his FOS would say apprehensions were too high if they exceeded 100, but the supervisor did not understand this remark to mean that agents should stop apprehending aliens. Another first-line supervisor said he had heard that if apprehensions reached 250, they needed to "tweak" the operation to get apprehensions down. Still another supervisor said that a "goal" of 250 daily apprehensions was set at the beginning of Gatekeeper.
A supervisor at one of the East County stations said he had heard rumors that if apprehensions at Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, or Brown Field exceeded 200 in a day, the station had to call CPA Williams to explain why. The supervisor never confirmed this rumor, however.
Many first-line supervisors testified that they had never heard of a "magic number" or a limit on apprehensions. While they said that FOSs asked questions when apprehension numbers rose, they contended that the FOSs imposed no pressure to keep numbers down. One said the PAIC told them he did not care if there were 300 apprehensions, he just wanted to know about it so he could fix the problem.
One FOS, however, said that if 200 apprehensions were made in a single day, Sector became "concerned." Another FOS testified that the 200 apprehensions figure was merely a way of measuring the level of control and was not intended to mean that agents should not continue to apprehend aliens once this figure was reached. He did testify, however, that Sector management contacted the station if apprehensions increased. Another FOS said that there was no set limit, but that "bells would go off" if apprehensions exceeded 200, meaning the PAIC would ask what had happened. He had heard that the CPA occasionally received telephone calls from the Commissioner on this subject, and that the PAICs would then have to explain their apprehension figures to the CPA.
Management personnel at Imperial Beach agreed that when certain benchmark numbers were exceeded, supervisors were asked to explain what was causing the increase. One PAIC said that the benchmarks changed as Imperial Beach came under tighter control. Early on the benchmark was 500 apprehensions a day; in October 1995 this number dropped to 250.
Another PAIC testified that management was trying to set a goal and "kicked around" figures like 200 or 250. Although these goals were discussed informally with the Chief and Sector staff, no figure was imposed on the station and no one used the term "magic number." The PAIC also testified that he was never "called on the carpet" because apprehensions had risen to a particular level. When apprehension figures "really spiked," the CPA or DCPA did ask for an explanation. The PAIC viewed such contacts merely as requests for information.
Although nearly all of the testimony regarding "magic numbers" related to Imperial Beach station, some witnesses from Chula Vista and Brown Field also used this term. One Chula Vista agent said he had heard that a "magic number" of 100 or 150 apprehensions was used at his station, and he speculated that these figures "must have come from the Chief." He was aware of no evidence, however, that agents had ever stopped apprehending aliens to make the alleged quota. Another agent said he had heard that Chula Vista personnel should be apprehending only 95 aliens per day. He also said, however, that he had never been told that it was important for apprehensions to decrease.
Another Chula Vista agent testified that he "understood" that when apprehensions were "too high" someone at Sector Headquarters would call the PAIC. The PAIC would then contact the FOSs, who in turn would address the matter with the agents. Everyone in the chain of command would have to explain why the numbers were so high. He also contended that on one occasion Border Patrol Headquarters in Washington called to find out why the numbers were so high. He viewed this contact as a request for information, however, and not as a directive to keep apprehension numbers down.
A Union official at Chula Vista told us that he had never heard anyone refer to a "magic number" at his station, but he did remark that the FOSs got upset when apprehension numbers were high. He observed the PAIC come to the station on weekends to check the numbers, and he would not react favorably when the numbers were high.
The PAIC at Chula Vista denied that there was a quota or magic number for apprehensions at his station. He said that he never received any calls from the Chief regarding why apprehensions had increased. He did recall receiving two calls from an ACPA asking why apprehension numbers were so high.
One line agent at Brown Field testified that he once heard another agent - whom he could not identify - say that apprehensions were not to exceed 200. No other Brown Field agent indicated that he had heard about any such quota or limit.
The supervisors at Brown Field denied that any magic number or quota existed. The APAIC said that if apprehensions exceeded 250 or 300 a day, the CPA might call the station to ask what was happening in the field. The PAIC said that there was no set limit, but that his station tried to keep apprehensions at 200 to 250 per day.100
Sector Headquarters managers agreed that if apprehension figures increased past certain levels, CPA Williams, the DCPA, or the ACPA would call the station to learn what caused the increase. One ACPA said that Williams viewed 100 or 150 as the "acceptable" number of apprehensions for Imperial Beach. He insisted, however, that this figure was a goal, not a quota. He commented that Imperial Beach was the Sector's stronghold and that the Border Patrol could not afford to lose control of that area.
Another ACPA testified similarly. He said that there was no magic number that caused concern, but if apprehension figures increased or decreased at a station, the ACPA overseeing the station might contact it to determine why the numbers had changed.
The DCPA testified that when apprehension numbers at a station showed a large increase, he called the station to find out why. He denied that he ever told station personnel not to apprehend aliens. His calls were intended to find out what the problem was so that it might be solved. Message traffic we obtained between the DCPA and Chula Vista personnel illustrates the DCPA's interaction with station personnel on this issue. In December 1995, for example, the DCPA sent an electronic message to the PAIC at Chula Vista noting that the station's apprehensions "spiked way up to 520" one night. He asked if the PAIC knew why that had happened because "the Chief is going to want to know." The PAIC forwarded the message to the APAIC, who responded that the increase was due to several inoperable border lights, to the cold weather - which deterred people from attempting to cross the mountains or wading through the river bottom at Imperial Beach - and to inadequate manpower on the border that night. The former DCPA also testified that if he noticed a trend of increased apprehensions at a station, he would call the PAIC to determine what the problem was and what Sector Headquarters could do to help.
CPA Williams testified that when a station experienced a "significant" increase in apprehensions, he would call the station to determine the reason. He further testified, however, that there was no specific number of apprehensions that would provoke such a call. He labeled "absolutely false" No. 1922's claim in Harper's that when apprehensions at Imperial Beach reached 200 in a day the Attorney General called the Commissioner who called Williams. No one set any particular number of apprehensions as a goal, although Western Regional Director Gus de la Viņa had "informally" stated that he would like to see fewer than 1,000 apprehensions per day for the entire Sector.
De la Viņa denied that there was a "magic number" for apprehensions. He said when he saw particularly high or low apprehensions figures he called PAIC William Pink for an explanation. De la Viņa testified that he never received any telephone calls from either the Attorney General or the Commissioner regarding high apprehension figures. He did say, however, that in the spring of 1995 - when Imperial Beach's apprehension numbers began to rise - he had a conversation with Commissioner Meissner about the problem. After speaking with the Commissioner, de la Viņa asked CPA Williams to explain the increase. Williams told de la Viņa that the increase reflected Williams' decision to shift resources from Imperial Beach to other stations. De la Viņa said he commented to Williams that the Border Patrol could not lose control at Imperial Beach, but gave Williams no specific instructions. De la Viņa was adamant that no limits were ever placed on apprehensions.
Doug Kruhm, the INS Assistant Commissioner for the Border Patrol, denied calling the Sector when apprehensions reached a particular level. He did testify, however, that he and CPA Williams had agreed that they were "on the hook" for the success of Gatekeeper, and that they needed to make it work if they wanted to keep their jobs. In early 1995, when "all hell was breaking loose at IB" (Imperial Beach), he talked with de la Viņa about what steps should be taken. They considered trying a strict Hold the Line-type strategy, but decided that that would lead to an unacceptable amount of violence. They ultimately decided to continue the Gatekeeper strategy, even though the program was not showing as much progress as they had hoped. He conceded that he felt a great deal of pressure, and that "everyone" was telling him that Gatekeeper would not succeed.
Kruhm acknowledged that poor communication with the agents had led to confusion about strategy and goals. He said agents should have been clearly told at musters that they were to deter entry, but that if deterrence failed, they were to apprehend aliens found in their area of responsibility. He said, "[a]s far as me telling Johnny [Williams] or he telling his Deputy or the PAICs not to catch aliens, no, it didn't happen. No way."
Commissioner Meissner testified that she did not review daily apprehension numbers, did not call Williams or anyone else when apprehensions reached a particular level, and did not set any limits on apprehensions. She did testify, however, that at one point in 1995, after Williams had become the CPA in San Diego, she spoke with de la Viņa about apprehensions at Imperial Beach. Williams was redistributing resources from Imperial Beach across the Sector in the hope of replicating Imperial Beach's early results. Commissioner Meissner said she viewed Imperial Beach as the key station in the San Diego Sector and called de la Viņa when the Station began to experience a substantial increase in apprehensions. These early months in Gatekeeper were a testing period, and Commissioner Meissner testified that the Border Patrol learned "graphically" that it could not count on maintaining early gains. Commissioner Meissner testified that she asked de la Viņa to ensure that the progress made at Imperial Beach was not lost. She said she gave no specific instructions to him, however.
Alan Bersin, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California and the Attorney General's Southwest Border Coordinator, testified that he reviewed apprehension reports for trends, but never contacted CPA Williams to ask why the numbers were up or down. He was not aware of any quota or "magic number" for apprehensions at the stations and had no knowledge that INS or DOJ personnel contacted the San Diego Sector if apprehension figures increased.
Jamie Gorelick, the former Deputy Attorney General, testified that she monitored Gatekeeper's progress and asked questions about the program in her weekly meetings with INS officials. She denied ever inquiring about particular apprehension levels, however. Similarly, the Attorney General testified that she did not monitor apprehension figures or contact anyone if they reached a certain level.
Two agents repeated a variation of a rumor that apprehensions at Imperial Beach were so high over one weekend that the Attorney General called CPA Williams to suggest sending a task force to Imperial Beach.101 Although we found no evidence confirming that such a call had been made and the Attorney General did not recall any such conversation with Williams, we did locate several memoranda and documents indicating that in May 1995, after several days of higher than usual apprehensions, Williams decided to send the Regional Emergency Action Team (REACT) to Imperial Beach. This was announced two days prior to a visit from the Attorney General. Briefing papers for this trip indicate she was briefed on the increased pressure from alien traffic at Imperial Beach. It is likely that the rumors were based on the confluence of these events.
Notably, however, REACT was assigned to Imperial Beach for only one week and apprehensions at Imperial Beach continued at higher levels for several more months. According to an October 9, 1995, memorandum to the Attorney General, it was not until August 1995 that de la Viņa directed Williams to assign more agents to Imperial Beach to regain control. The memorandum contends that de la Viņa did not "assert oversight" of Williams prior to then because of the "informal relationship" between the CPA and Headquarters management. This document suggests that it is unlikely that de la Viņa, the Commissioner, or the Attorney General had been calling to impose a 200 or 250 apprehension limit on Imperial Beach or any of the other stations in the first nine months of 1995.
A former Chula Vista PAIC suggested, however, that DOJ's Office of Public Affairs (OPA) might have been involved in setting apprehension limits. This individual testified that although he had never been instructed to impose a 200 apprehension daily limit and had never communicated such a limit to his agents, he had "heard of" the 200 apprehension figure. He could not recall the source of this figure, but he speculated that it might be a particular staffer in OPA. The former DCPA testified that this staffer had indeed called about apprehension levels but contended no one else from Washington ever did so.
We interviewed this staffer, who was a public affairs specialist assigned to DOJ's OPA in Washington. She acknowledged contacting the Sector when she learned that apprehensions at Imperial Beach exceeded 200 per day to find out what was causing the rise in apprehensions. She testified that she made these calls on her own initiative, and not at the direction of the Attorney General or the Commissioner. Although she had no official responsibility for or authority over Operation Gatekeeper, she took a personal interest in the program. She developed her own sources in the Sector, calling people at various levels within the Border Patrol to gather information, and writing memoranda for the Attorney General regarding her views and findings. Her refusal to work within the chain of command at INS caused great consternation. Indeed, she informed the OIG that she was essentially "banned" from INS for a period of time. The estrangement between this staffer and INS was confirmed by a number of witnesses.
All of these facts make it extremely unlikely that this staffer was acting at the direction of the Commissioner when she made calls inquiring about rising apprehension numbers. Although she had access to the Attorney General, it is also unlikely that the Attorney General directed her to make these calls. This individual's only official role in Gatekeeper was to brief the Attorney General for upcoming visits to the Sector. We found no evidence that the Attorney General or the Commissioner were even aware that she was making calls to the Sector. In sum, all of the evidence we reviewed indicates that this staffer made calls to the Sector on her own initiative.
Although her calls were unofficial, Sector employees may have viewed them as "official" calls from Washington. Indeed, we believe that her calls explain the testimony of witnesses who told us that "Washington called" when apprehensions exceeded 200 per day. This staffer, however, had no authority to impose or enforce any kind of limit on apprehensions. Nor did we discover any evidence that she attempted to impose such a limit.
Finally, if the Union official is correct that a 200 apprehension limit was in place from the spring of 1996 through mid-summer of 1996 - when the allegations of fraud became public - it is likely that Imperial Beach would have reported a sudden drop in apprehensions in the spring (when the limit was allegedly imposed) and an equally sudden surge when the limit was removed in mid-summer. As the chart below demonstrates, however, Imperial Beach's apprehension numbers during the first six months of 1996 did not suddenly drop to an average of 200 apprehensions per day. Nor did the Station's apprehension numbers suddenly increase in mid-summer 1996.
From the initiation of our investigation until the present, the daily average apprehension numbers for Imperial Beach have steadily fallen. Indeed, by August and September 1997, apprehensions at Imperial Beach averaged approximately 900 for the entire month, an average of only 30 per day. Yet during this time the OIG received no allegation that any limit on apprehensions was in effect at Imperial Beach or any other Sector station.
In sum, we found no evidence that any limit was placed on apprehensions and no evidence that agents were told to stop apprehending aliens once a particular quota had been met. Indeed, we found substantial documentary evidence that resources were frequently shifted to areas experiencing increases in illegal traffic. Such a shift would, at least initially, result in higher apprehension numbers. While managers clearly made inquiries when apprehension numbers increased substantially, these inquiries were designed to assist station personnel in solving the problem, not to set an artificial limit on apprehensions. We therefore reject as unsubstantiated the allegation that management imposed a limit on the number of aliens who could be apprehended in a given day.
91 Although apprehensions at Imperial Beach continued to be below the previous year's figures, the difference between the two years' figures narrowed substantially, and apprehensions at each of the remaining line stations were higher than the same period the previous year.
92 Notably, many of the first-line supervisors were not happy with Operation Gatekeeper because it significantly increased their responsibilities, required them to closely monitor the line agents, and took away some of their autonomy. Thus, they were not particularly interested in making it appear more successful than it actually was.
93 One agent at Imperial Beach claimed he had one of the highest apprehension figures at his station, yet no one ever told him he was apprehending too many aliens. In a January 1995 memorandum to the PAIC complaining about agents at a particular location allowing traffic to enter the U.S. and then trying to apprehend them, a line agent notes that agents had been told under Gatekeeper to apprehend every alien who attempted to illegally enter the country.
94 The linkage between lower apprehension numbers and deterrence was reflected in documents we reviewed. For example, in a February 1996 memorandum to Chula Vista supervisors, the PAIC wrote: "It's time to stop the traffic! Let's reduce the number of apprehensions starting at Zone One and continuing to Zone Four. Maintain an effective deterrence posture and don't let anything through." Similarly, a supervisor's notes from a March 1996 meeting with then INS Assistant Commissioner for Operations William Slattery indicate that Slattery told Border Patrol supervisors that apprehension numbers at Campo and El Cajon should be lower. Slattery said that the stations should "secure and deter" rather than "sucker and apprehend." These documents confirm that the goal of lower apprehension numbers was tied to increased deterrence, not to ignoring illegal traffic.
95 There are striking similarities between Hal's remarks and the testimony of No. 1922.
96 This was the first allegation we received that suggested that misconduct within the Sector was driven by officials outside the Sector.
97 As discussed in Section I, D-2., above, we found no evidence that indicated that the stations intentionally failed to process and/or count apprehended aliens.
98 He also testified that when the PAIC learned that the supervisor set a limit of 25 aliens, the PAIC chastised the supervisor and at muster told the agents to "catch anything that moves" and "we are here to catch aliens."
99 This document set no target figure for the other stations in the Sector.
100 This concern about the number of apprehensions was reflected in a May 1996 electronic message from a supervisor at Brown Field to the PAIC. In this message, the supervisor noted that if the PAIC observed a large increase in apprehensions on the midnight shift it was probably because the supervisor had assigned a training group and a scope operator to a busy area. The supervisor said he was "sorry if the numbers go up too much." This comment suggests that, although he was aware that the PAIC wanted apprehension figures to decrease, the supervisor still assigned agents to locations where they could apprehend aliens and reported the higher apprehensions.
101 One witness said it was a weekend in 1996 and one said spring 1995. One said the number of apprehensions that triggered the alleged call was 900 while the other said 500.