It is generally understood that the US-Mexico border is the source of the drugs entering the country. It is the reason that many demand a wall along the southern border. According to a 2018 DEA Drug Assessment Report, the southern border remains the principal entry point for drugs, especially cocaine, heroin and fentanyl. The important thing missing in the debate about border security is the corruption among those tasked with keeping the drugs from entering the country.

Research, especially academic research, does not exist as to the levels of corruption among border law enforcement. News reports of arrests gives us a glimpse into the problem, but research data is difficult to come by. Corruption does not exist in a vacuum. It needs the corruptors and those who corrupt them. To keep both safe from prying eyes requires controlling information. The less information the harder it is to connect-the-dots.

That is an important consideration for readers wondering why research data on border corruption among border officials is difficult to find.

In October of 2019, the publication Security Journal published an academic paper on corruption among law enforcement on the border. The paper, “Law enforcement corruption along the U.S. borders,” by David Jancsics is one, if not, the only research looking specifically into the prevalence of corruption among border security personnel.

According to the paper, a 2015 Homeland Security Advisory Council report states that “arrests for corruption” of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers “far exceed” arrests of other federal law enforcement.

As an example, the arrest of Margarita Crispin who was arrested in El Paso serves as a poignant reminder that drug dealers aren’t sitting idly by waiting to cross their drugs into the country. They use tunnels and corrupt border officials. Crispin, from El Paso, started working for the Department of Homeland Security specifically to facilitate drug crossings. After receiving a tip in 2004, federal officers began to investigate Crispin.

It wasn’t until July 2007, that she was arrested. Federal officials, knowing about an attempted drug crossing allowed her to wave through a van with 1,500 pounds of drugs through her lane, giving them the evidence needed to arrest her. But what is most troubling about the case is that after the tip, an incident on the border involving Crispin raised eyebrows but did not stop her from her corruption.

In 2006, Margarita Crispin waved through a van loaded with 6,000 pounds of marihuana. The van ran out of gas just as it crossed the border and died. The driver panicked and ran back to México. Crispin could not explain to officials how she missed 6,000 pounds of marihuana bricks in plain sight on a van she had just waved through. Officials, for their part, just let her continue waving drug-laden vans through.

Crispin was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.

However, Crispin’s case is not isolated. According to Jancsics’ research, “between 2006 and 2014 30 CBP applicants admitted during the polygraph test that they were sent by Mexican cartels to seek employment” with Homeland Security.

Jancsics, in his study of officer corruption between 2004 and 2015, found that 88.5% of corrupt border law enforcement tended to be male. But, as Jancsics correctly points out, women account for 5% of border security personnel, thus the 11.5% of female law enforcement criminals represent “more than twice” of border agent corruption.

The researcher also found that agents working in customs were more prone to corruption than those working as border patrol agents. According to his research, 66.2% of those charged criminally worked in customs, while 33.8% worked as BP agents.

What is interesting to note about Jancsics’ findings is that 37.8% of corruption cases involved drug-related criminal activity, while 34% involved immigration violations. The number one question that readers likely want to know is how the northern border compares to the southern border.

It should not surprise anyone that the southern border accounted for 71.2% of the official corruption.

The report quantifies other interesting facts that researchers should consider when analyzing border crimes. Such as whether the length of work for an agent, or the age of the agent correlates with criminal activity.

For everyday readers the important question is whether the border wall would stop drugs from crossing into the country. Or, will it help stop immigration violations. Jancsics’s report suggests that drug smugglers and human traffickers prefer official points of entry over desert crossings. The smugglers employ long-term solutions like tunnels are building up a portfolio of workers it sends to work as border security officials to continue their illicit activities.

A border wall does nothing to stop these long-term investments that allows traffickers access to American markets. Most importantly, corruption is a two-way street that requires Mexican corruptors with willing U.S. corruptees for the schemes to work.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...