Immigration Agents Find Common Cause with Hate Groups


A version of this story ran in the August 2015 issue.

Above: A U.S. Border Patrol truck at a checkpoint near Tucson, Arizona.

The unions that represent Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents aren’t shy when it comes to speaking out against the Obama administration’s immigration policies. But in a new report, “Blurring Borders: Collusion between Anti-Immigrant Groups and Immigration Enforcement Agents,” the Chicago nonprofit Center for New Community finds that some union leaders are working in tandem with anti-immigrant groups to undermine immigration policies and promote anti-immigrant views.

The most prominent example, according to Anu Joshi, campaign manager for the center, was a series of tense protests last summer in Murrieta, California, that made national headlines. Anti-immigrant protestors holding signs that read “Stop the invasion of illegals” and “deport illegals” blocked government buses filled with undocumented women and children as they tried to enter a Border Patrol processing center.

The protest organizers had received information about bus routes and schedules from Border Patrol official Ron Zermeno, a fact that came to light from reports in right-wing media outlets such as Breitbart and National Review.

“Murrieta was an ugly example of this collusion with anti-immigrant groups,” Joshi said.

According to the center’s report, Zermeno, who is health and safety director for the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613 in San Diego, was also “privately coordinating and assisting far-right, anti-government activists in organizing a nine-day ‘Border Convoy’ along the U.S.-Mexico border” from Murrieta to McAllen to protest the influx of Central American refugees arriving at the border.

ICE agents have also flouted the law, according to the center’s report. In June 2012, President Obama issued an executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provides some undocumented students with legal status in the country. A few days later, 10 agents, led by Chris Crane, president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118, filed a lawsuit arguing that the policy was unconstitutional and an executive overreach.

The agents were represented by attorney Kris Kobach, legal counsel for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Kobach helped craft Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant SB 1070 legislation, which required police to check citizenship status.) The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the agents’ case in April.

ICE agents have also flouted the law, according to the center’s report.

“They should be carrying out public policy set by elected officials,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s not their job to decide what is the law and what isn’t.”

But Shawn Moran, vice president and spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, said the union has every right to be involved in the political process.

“They have a right not to like it,” Moran said of the critics. “But not to identify us as members of a hate group or as racists.” Moran said his union represents at least 17,000 Border Patrol agents and that it isn’t in collusion with anti-immigrant groups.

“I can’t speak to what an individual local has done,” he said. “But our interactions with those groups have been nothing but professional. There’s no behind-the-scenes manipulation. We’re very transparent about what we want and how we go about getting it.”