New DHS Secretary Tours Border, Addresses Transparency Issues

January 22, 2014
Michel Marizco
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson spoke at the U.S. Border Patrol Tucson Sector headquarters on his first border tour.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Newly confirmed Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson has spent the last two days traveling in the Border Patrol’s busiest regions, South Texas and Southern Arizona. This was the secretary’s first trip to the border.

Johnson said he met with ranchers and local law enforcement along the Arizona border Tuesday. He said while those he met with were pleased with the Border Patrol’s work, he saw there was still more to be done to raise security levels along the border.

Johnson said he wanted to see more transparency in cases of use of force by his federal agents. 

“I think it’s crucial for law enforcement to have accountability and credibility in the areas in which they operate," he said.

Since 2010, Border Patrol agents have killed at least 18 people. Most of those cases remain unresolved and the names of agents involved are rarely disclosed. In at least two recent cases, the FBI, which investigated the shootings, exonerated the agents, saying it appeared they were under attack by rocks hurled from the Mexico side of the border.

The Border Patrol has stood by its policy of using deadly force when agents fear for their safety. It has also said it will increase real-life scenarios for agents. But for now, investigations into these shootings are not transparent.

Johnson didn’t address aging ports of entry where shipping companies have long complained about a lack of inspectors. Tucson Democratic Rep. Ron Barber said border mayors complained about the long wait times.

"When I think about border security I think it about it in the same way about it being an issue of economic security," Barber said.

Michel Marizco
Residents of Arivaca, Ariz., protested outside of the U.S. Border Patrol Tucson Sector headquarters.

The secretary may be new on the job but he’s absorbing many of the problems left in place when Janet Napolitano left the cabinet position last year. Among those, complaints from residents.

Hours before Johnson arrived, residents of the tiny town of Arivaca protested outside the Border Patrol headquarters in Tucson. They have complained for months about harassment and unfair scrutiny at a small immigration checkpoint outside of town on Arivaca Road. Peter Ragan says folks there are going to start monitoring the agents.

"And we’ll be watching," Ragan said. "We’ll also be documenting with still photos and video cameras.”

Those checks of Johnson’s border agents will start next month.