I guess you could say that I am somewhat of an expert on Border Patrol agent suicides. I have lost many a good friend in the agency to this beast. Additionally, I am a former Senior Patrol Agent and San Diego Sector Intelligence Agent and a survivor of a serious suicide attempt in 2015. I am the only former agent who speaks openly about their attempt and how the agency and its policies contributed to that attempt.
It is somewhat confusing for former agents like me and families of agents who have suffered from this to see the agency's sudden concern. Those of us who suffer from suicidal ideation have never been allowed to express our mental health issues or even ask for help from the agency without receiving snide remarks about how weak we are or how we cannot “hack it” being a Border Patrol agent. One mention of how separating families or finding bloated and dead mothers and their children is causing us mental anguish, and we are suddenly put on the rubber gun squad and fired.
The Border Patrol has until now chosen to keep quiet about these suicides and attempted suicides. Agents who die because of suicide are not reported on the agent down memorials. Agents’ families do not receive the same benefits or the grand funeral processions for their loved ones if the death is caused by suicide. We are normally shunned and ignored by agents, the union and the agency.
The truth is that the U.S. Border Patrol has always had one of the highest suicide rates of any law enforcement agency. If you count all the suicides of those agents who are retired, fired and those who quit, and all the attempted suicides like mine…it is atrocious and devastating.
There are many reasons why agents take their own lives. Some agents commit suicide because they are currently under investigation for murder, pedophilia, rape and other crimes. The fake veneer of "Honor First" is about to be revealed, and many agents cannot handle the shame. Some of these agents would have never become agents if the Border Patrol would simply require a basic psychological exam like most other law enforcement agencies require or even just require a decent background investigation before being hired.
This is why so many agents are later found out to be criminals. Tucson Sector Border Patrol Agent Dana Ray Thornhill is an example of this. Even though he had a conviction for sexually assaulting a child in his past, he was still hired by the agency, served for nearly 20 years before he was found to be engaging in online child pornography sites. He had been sexually assaulting his daughters for years while wearing the green uniform and was even the Tucson Sector Chaplain. His suicide by cop attempt failed.
Other agents claim to have made this fatal decision because of relationships gone bad, money troubles, addictions to alcohol or drugs, being sexually assaulted by their peers and supervisors, the coverups. The reasons are as varied as the general population but for one element, that of being an oppressor. Being a Border Patrol agent means that you are taught to see those crossing our border without inspection as criminals invading the United States. We are taught in the academies and in the field that asylum seekers are liars just trying to take advantage of our country's wealth. Our instructors teach us that migrant children and even unaccompanied children are not like our children but that they are just junior criminals soon-to-be criminals. Our union teaches us to have no sympathy for those crossing in search of safety, that if they die crossing the obstacle of death we have created by shutting down most avenues to legal immigration, it was their choice to make.
Being an oppressor has a cost.
The Border Patrol has never recognized that agent suicides are predominately caused by the work they do. It is the agency's brutality and cruelty that often contribute to agent suicides.
While I have been speaking and writing about this subject for years, it is only now that the agency has decided to suddenly admit it has a problem. In typical Border Patrol fashion of gaming out any situation to its political benefit, Chief Raul Ortiz has decided to align with right-wing media outlets to claim that the reason so many agents are killing themselves is because of Joe Biden’s border policies. It is the reason why two wives of Border Patrol agents were on Fox News this week sobbing about all the horrible atrocities their husbands see and engage in and how it is mentally affecting their spouses.
When agents see these atrocities, the bloated and deformed corpses that are the result of the very laws they are enforcing, when they are ordered to take the children of asylum seekers or enforce laws that intentionally funnel migrants to their inevitable deaths as we have done since 1994…well, some of us do have traumatic mental, moral and ethical injuries. In some agents, that presents itself as corruption. Agents just stop caring. They become hardened as I did just to survive the work they are doing. Some get through the stress and trauma with drugs and alcohol, others take it out on their families.
All this behavior can be linked to the actions of being an oppressor, and all of it leads to the behaviors that can ultimately lead to suicidal ideation. One cannot witness the brutality and cruelty of our immigration policies in action and not be traumatized by it. If the Border Patrol wants to reduce agent suicides, it must first acknowledge its own role in those agents’ deaths. It is the culture of impunity, brutality, cruelty, rape culture, racism and xenophobia that encompasses the entire Border Patrol culture that often leads to suicides and mental illness in agents.
The Border Patrol, its union and the agents themselves bear sole responsibility.
All this being said, I have a difficult time seeing that President Biden is somehow responsible for these agents' deaths. You see, none of these policies are new. They are not solely from the Biden administration, and to suggest such is pure political games. It is the Border Patrol who is always pushing for more cruel enforcement policies through their union, the National Border Patrol Council. Inhumane policies are the foundation of Border Patrol work, and that work is completely voluntary on the part of agents. They can leave any time, unlike the migrants.
It is important to note that the Border Patrol and right-wing media are claiming that agents are killing themselves not because President Biden's policies are cruel and brutal, but because they are simply not cruel and brutal enough. One spouse of an agent claimed that her husband should not have to rescue a drowned child and that it was traumatizing to him to later learn the dead child had been horribly abused. I have no doubt, but what his wife fails to understand is that it is the very laws that her agent husband is enforcing that is directly causing the despair and suffering he sees every day. It is at the insistence of the Border Patrol Union that the asylum system at the ports of entry has remained shuttered by Title 42. If Title 42 worked to keep asylum seekers from crossing illegally, her agent husband would have never encountered this child. But Title 42 is the reason so much atrocity is occurring on the border right now. For the agency and the union to still insist this policy is needed even when their own data shows that it does not prevent people from crossing and that it is directly responsible for many deaths, is to completely ignore the truth and blame their political opponents for what ails them.
You see, the Border Patrol and its union do not care about agents' and their mental health any more than they care about the health of asylum seekers or their children. If they did, they would not have agents separate families. They would have addressed their rape culture by now. They would have argued for a safe and humane asylum system at the ports to drastically reduce the number of asylum seekers crossing in between the ports of entry. They would insist that their agents stop intentionally making vehicles crash and killing people. They would stop intentionally funneling migrants out to the mountains, deserts and rivers that kill them.
The Border Patrol and its union are using the suicides of agents to politically bludgeon the current administration simply because they prefer Trump. None of the programs the agency has implemented will decrease suicides in the agency. The suicide prevention system they have created so far simply serves as a tattle-tale program for agents to turn in their fellow agents who they deem to not be cruel enough. Any agent suffering from constantly witnessing and participating in the cruelty and brutality of the Border Patrol's policies under Biden will continue to suffer.
If Chief Ortiz and the union want to save Border Patrol agents from suicide, they should stop having agents commit atrocities against migrants and calling it national security. He should clean up the corruption, rape culture and impunity of his agency. He should argue that Title 42 is the reason so many are crossing illegally and dying right now. He should argue for a humane and robust asylum system so that these families are not forced to cross in between the ports where many will die horrible deaths and where many others are simply lucky just to have survived.
While I can sympathize, even empathize with agents today, the fact is that they intentionally and knowingly enforce laws that have directly caused tens of thousands of migrant deaths just as I am guilty of doing. Now that these brutal laws and policies are taking agents' lives as well, they demand action and sympathy.
I am not so sure people can or should sympathize with the oppressors claiming they are the victims.