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Guardians of Lies

It was nothing more than a coincidence, that on the same day last week’s column on the use of private prisons appeared, an important  announcement dealing with those institutions was reported on by the national media.   The announcement was that a new $100 million immigrant detention center is going to be built in Conroe, Texas, and it will be built by none other than one of the champions of private prisons described in last week’s column, GEO Group.

DJT’s and Attorney General Jeff Session’s enthusiasm for finding and incarcerating illegal immigrants, has brought joy to the fiscal hearts of both private for-profit prison companies and many Texas counties. The counties are excited because a number of them overbuilt prisons and were suffering from lack of occupants and no way to pay for their construction and upkeep.  The happy turn of events gives them the opportunity to rent out unused space to federal or private prison companies thus helping them pay for their facilities. The private prison companies are excited because following the election of DJT the value of their stock has soared.

The new Conoroe facility will be in addition to an existing 1,200 bed facility already located there, and two other prisons in Houston and Livingston. The Conroe detention center is slated to open in 2018 and to generate $44 million in revenue.  In addition, it will provide employment to Conroe residents involved in its construction. It is a win-win situation for all but the immigrants.

A number of perceptive readers have asked how the prisons will be able to find suitable employees to staff all the newly available facilities.  The question was answered by a headline in the Guardian.  It announced that: “Border Patrol may loosen lie-detector use in hiring to meet Trump’s jobs order.”

According to the Guardian, the U.S. Border Patrol has been having difficulty filling its ranks for the past several years.  That is not because it lacks applicants.  It is because the applicants are unable to pass routine lie detector tests that are part of the employment process.  According to the Guardian, more than 60% of the applicants taking the lie detector test fail, and having failed, cannot be hired. In a conference on border security conducted in San Antonio in mid-April, Border Patrol Chief, Ronald Vitellio, addressed the hiring problems confronting the agency and was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying: “The polygraph has given us a difficult time.  Not a lot of people are passing.”  Although Chief Vitellio’s explanation would seem to place the blame for the problem on the lie detector test, a complete reading of reports on hiring difficulties suffered by the agency discloses that the problem lies not with the test, but with the persons taking the test.  Their responses to questions posed are often not truthful.

The acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner, Kevin McAleenan,  prepared a memorandum in which he observes that lie detector tests pose a “significant deterrent and point of failure” for applicants.  He says that puts the board patrol at a hiring disadvantage with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) people with which his agency competes for employees, since ICE doesn’t require that new hires pass a lie detector test.  Implicit in the memorandum, is the suggestion that the test be eliminated or made less difficult, although it is not explained how a lie detector test can be simplified.

The McAleenan suggestion has not met with universal approval.  John Kelly, the Homeland Security Secretary, who oversees both ICE and CBP, says that notwithstanding its adverse effect on the number of people CBP is able to hire, administering the lie detector test remains a “good idea.”   James Tomsheck, CBP’s Internal Affair Chief from 2006 to 2014, said that McAleenan was “attempting to degrade the vetting to accommodate a political mandate.  Ultimately this data deprived decision will greatly reduce security at our borders.”

CBP has not enjoyed a good reputation for how its agents treat those with whom it comes into contact.  A Kino Border Initiative report issued in 2015, states that incarcerated immigrants suffer a variety of abuses and the hands of CBP agents. Mr. Tomsheck observed that: “the failure to adequately vet and screen new agents and officers” was one of the main reasons for the problems confronting the agency. Gil Kerlikowsek, CBP’s present commissioner, observed that two out of three applicants fail the lie detector test, and attributed the failure to the kinds of applicants being attracted to the agency.

In view of the foregoing, it is no wonder that those hoping for vastly increased number of hires at the CBP, want to eliminate or simplify the lie detector tests.  The arrested immigrants who are ruled by the CBP employees while incarcerated may have a different view of it.  So should the rest of us.

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