A whistleblowing Border Patrol agent alleges that the Department of Homeland Security ignored health and safety concerns in attempting to transport illegal immigrants to a facility in Murrieta, Calif., the site of a high-profile confrontation between DHS and local citizens this past summer.
In a “whistleblower” disclosure document obtained by National Review Online, the agent alleges that the federal government knowingly transported illegal immigrants to facilities that were unequipped to process them; disregarded repeated warnings from a Border Patrol agent about the public-health risks posed by the immigrants, many of whom were suffering from infectious diseases; rejected multiple offers of assistance from local officials; and suspended law-enforcement operations at part of America’s southern border while denying a congressman’s repeated requests for information about the government’s plan to process the immigrants and about the startling events unfolding in his district.
Murrieta, a suburb of San Diego, became a flashpoint in the national immigration debate when dozens of residents gathered in the streets to protest the federal government’s decision to relocate hundreds of illegal immigrants from the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas to their town. Buses of Central American immigrants and unaccompanied migrant children were met by local protestors demanding the enforcement of immigration law. And the agent alleges that the Border Patrol sent officers under cover to infiltrate their activities, too.
The whistleblower disclosure was filed by Border Patrol agent Ron Zermeno, the health and safety director of National Border Patrol Council Local 1613. Zermeno writes in the disclosure about how, as early as May of 2014, when he learned of the government’s plan to relocate the immigrants, he began raising the alarm, reaching out to Border Patrol management, local officials, and a congressman. He gained no ground with these warnings, he says. He also spoke with NRO and other media about his concerns but was disciplined — for the first time in his decades-long career — for allegedly exposing sensitive law-enforcement information to the press. Zermeno declined to comment for this story.
His disclosure suggests that while the images coming out of Murrieta showed American citizens fighting the arrival of illegal immigrants, the confrontation would have been avoided entirely if only the federal government had heeded the warnings of its employees. Zermeno says in the document that on May 7, he received word from a senior agent of the federal government’s plan to send 140 illegal immigrants every 72 hours to the Murrieta Border Patrol Station, despite its inability to accommodate their arrival. His disclosure says he was concerned for the safety of the agents because of reports that the detainees would be carrying infectious diseases, scabies, and lice. The facility could not safely house the incoming women and children, he writes.
But the senior agent, according to Zermeno, said that immigrants would nonetheless be processed and then released to the community, and that the directive was “concealed for unknown reasons.”
Information about the plan to ship illegal immigrants to Murrieta was concealed from not only the public, Zermeno asserts, but also lawmakers.
Zermeno writes that he expressed his concerns for the health and safety of the agents and detainees to a staffer for Representative Ken Calvert (R., Calif.). The staffer then tried several times to reach San Diego Border Patrol management but never received a call back. Calvert tells NRO that the Department of Homeland Security did not disclose their plan to him or his office, but he confirms that Zermeno did speak with his office before the illegal immigrants arrived.
“We got a phone call a couple of days beforehand from Zermeno — he’s the one that informed us,” Calvert says. “Maybe that’s one of the reasons he’s in trouble.” Other Border Patrol agents also spoke with him privately and appeared fearful of retribution from the federal government, Calvert says.
Zermeno told Calvert’s staff that relocating immigrants to Murrieta would have dramatic and startling consequences: Shifting Border Patrol agents from their posts policing the dangerous I-15 corridor would effectively require the suspension of all law-enforcement operations on a vulnerable stretch of the border.
“We would not be able to intercept or prevent Transcontinental Criminal organizations that use the I-15 corridor to transport illegal contraband Northbound and the proceeds from that contraband going Southbound,” Zermeno writes.
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