Border Patrol Agent Christian Sanchez's statement
Statement by U.S. Border Patrol Agent Christian Sanchez which he read at a July 29, 2011, Washington, D.C., forum put on by the Advisory Committee on Transparency, a project of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.
TESTIMONY OF CHRISTIAN SANCHEZ before the CONGRESSIONAL TRANSPARENCY CAUCUS July 29, 2011 My name is Christian Sanchez. Thank you for inviting my testimony today. I also want to thank my lawyers Paul Richmond, and Tom Devine from the Government Accountability Project for helping me to prepare it. The continued misuse of federal funds by the U.S Border Patrol is the issue at hand. This is a time when jobs are scarce, homeowners are foreclosing, social security is at risk, our troops are stretched thin in wars in the Middle East, school programs are under-funded and finally our federal budget is in significant deficit. I have been employed as a Border Patrol Agent for the U.S Customs and Border Patrol from May 12, 2003 to the present. For the past 7 years I have taken on the collateral duty of Border Patrol Chaplain, until that service was stripped as part of the current retaliation against me. I graduated from San Diego State University, with a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology/Business. Prior to the above, between September 1991-1995, I worked as a Hospital Corpsman for the U.S Navy. My mission as a Border Patrol Agent is to gain operational control of our nationâ€™s border. This is done by apprehending terrorists and their weapons illegally entering the United States. This is also done by detecting, apprehending and deterring smugglers of humans, drugs and other contraband. Also part of my mission is deterring illegal entries through improved enforcement. During my 8 years of duty, my annual proficiency rating has been successful in performing my assigned duties and responsibilities in furthering the mission and goals of the U.S Customs and Border Protection. Up until September 13, 2009 I was on the Southern Border and was very busy, doing the real, important work described below to protect our country. All national security functions that I have learned to protect my country, are being sacrificed at my station in Port Angeles Washington. I am not able to perform my duties as a Border Patrol Agent here, and this is a waste of taxpayer money. At the Southern Border before I arrived in Port Angeles, Washington, I performed specialized duties such as intelligence reporting, prosecution preparation, surveillance, anti-smuggling/narcotics interdiction, and the processing of aliens from special interest countries. I interpreted and applied the Immigration and Nationality laws, rules and regulations through extensive training and experience working near the United States and Mexico international border. I regularly used a thorough working knowledge of law enforcement activities, search and seizure techniques, arrest procedures, the constitutional rights of individuals and the statutory authorities conferred to me as a Border Patrol Agent. I routinely accomplished tasks such as Line Watch Operations, sign-cutting, common carrier inspections, traffic checkpoint, sensor response and All Terrain Vehicle patrol (ATV), working alone or as a part of a team. My actions in relation to the arrest, prosecution, and removal of aliens are based upon a thorough interrogation, in both the English and Spanish languages, to establish a person's nationality and immigration status. By effective investigation and the use of a variety information systems and databases, I determined whether the person is removable, or subject to further charges and possible criminal prosecution. I successfully completed casework from routine administrative to complex criminal smuggling cases. I have had extensive training in areas such as Money Laundering/Bulk cash smuggling, Multi-jurisdictional Counter Drug Task Force training, and Custody and Management of Seized Evidence and Property. I also have had training in areas such as dealing with Criminal and Administrative case procedures under different statutes and authorities (Title 8, 18, 19, 31 and 49). As part of my Alternate Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures Officer (AFO) training, I also have been certified as a Seized Property Specialist for the U.S. Border Patrol. Also I am a certified Contracting Officers Technical Representative (COTR). I have conducted oversight of quality control and quality assurance on contractors dealing with Customs and Border Protection. As a seized property specialist for the United States Customs and Border Patrol, I have gained an extensive background in processing and seizing vehicles/weapons/contraband/currency and monetary instruments involved in smuggling activity. I have had the opportunity to work extensively with other federal, state, and local law enforcement communities and other CBP components, including air and marine, as well as many state and local police departments. I have conducted thorough investigations and created target folders on criminal organizations. I have formulated affidavits and executed seizure warrants, interrogated possible suspects and arrested those in violation of law. As an Asset Forfeiture Officer (AFO) for the Asset Forfeiture Office I've gained a better understanding of the three basic goals of the Asset Forfeiture Program -enforcing the law; improving law enforcement cooperation; and enhancing law enforcement through revenue while dismantling criminal organizations. BETRAYING THE TAXPAYERS In September 2009 I took a transfer to the Port Angeles Station in Washington, Blaine Sector. My family and I were prompted in part by the housing crisis. We were simply priced out of the area in San Diego. The Port Angeles Station was described as one of the exciting new places to be, and the agency paid all of our moving expenses. With a family with three young children, this seemed too good to be true. We learned the hard way, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. When I arrived at my station there was rarely any casework to be done, if at all, so I just roved from X to X, wasting gasoline. Today this has not changed and there still is rarely any casework to do, if any, and we agents are bored. But what has changed is that the number of agents in an office that formerly completed its background support duties with a staff of four, has grown to over 40 and is still increasing. We are now refurbishing an existing building, for $8 million, as our new facility which will house 50+ agents. There was never much to do here. When I first got to Port Angeles all of the agents had advised me that there was no work, and unofficially we were an Other Agency (OA) Station. Basically that meant we were support for other law enforcement agencies, but there wasn’t ever any cross border activity for us to handle. My own station is in a remote area, with no border activity, no outside monitoring, and about 4+ hours away from Blaine Sector. This is a bad combination for bored, high-energy men to be in. Though there is no casework to do at my station, Patrol Agent in Charge (PAIC) Todd McCool, Assistant Patrol Agent in Charge (APAIC) Jason E. Carroll, and Field Operations Supervisor (FOS) Rafael I. Cano want to create their own kingdom. The spending is to expand bureaucratic turf, not to protect our nation. About one fourth of the agents were hired without even knowing how to speak the Spanish language, a necessary requirement to be a Border Patrol Agent. The agency’s solution? Spend money and time to teach what they should have known to even be considered for a job. APAIC Carroll has mandated a Spanish class to be given to them, while on shift, during weekdays. There is simply no reason for there to be an office this large in Port Angeles, when it previously was a realistically-sized four man station. Since there is no casework, instead there is micro-management of everything and everyone. That's what keeps the station busy. We agents are given rules, regulations and tasks as busywork, and management slams the agent if they are not followed. For example, my supervisor has said I must tell him three times that I have decided not to work Administratively Uncontrolled Overtime -- during muster, again after shift in person, and again when I sign off the service radio. Since I am the only person who doesn’t claim AUO, I am the only person who has to announce it three times daily to my supervisor. He does not allow me to advise another supervisor if he isn’t around. I must wait to tell him, in person, whenever he returns. PAIC McCool, APAIC Carroll, and FOS Cano have rules and regulations over and beyond the normal scope, and there is no flexibility. Anything and everything causes them to “flip out” and write up the agent, because they are bored. Micro-managing and “getting” the agent keeps them busy, because there is no casework to do and management doesn’t leave the office. I have observed that all supervisors, except for two on occasion, never left the office for the entire shift to go on patrol. Yet, about every supervisor and FOS Cano, all have “take home rides”. Basically they take home their government vehicle every day. It’s theirs and no one else uses it, but the Federal government pays the expenses, like gas and the maintenance for the vehicle. It is unusual that supervisors and an FOS have “take home rides,” and especially in a location where there is no casework. On July 3, 2010 I was asked by SBPA White to lie on official paperwork. He wanted me to omit that I had to leave the scene of an accident, because he couldn’t find the location. He didn’t want the agency or himself to be liable. SBPA White told me to write up a report, but to leave out that part despite its impact on our response. He said it would just create a “grey area.” I told him that I could not leave any “grey area,” and had to write the truth. Very angrily he told me to write it anyway, the way he told me. I asked another agent to just witness what SBPA White was asking me to write, and I requested at least a day to write it, since I couldn’t even obtain the police report until Monday due to the holiday weekend. SBPA White became angrier, and said he needed it in twenty-four hours. I called FOS Cano and explained to him I could not leave out the information SBPA White was asking me to leave out, and I was not comfortable with lying on the paperwork. I did not lie, although I had been ordered to. On or about October 2010, a year after arriving, I finally came to terms with myself that there was no work to be done at my station, and wasn’t going to be any. Therefore I was going to be paid while not performing my duties of a Border Patrol Agent. This upset me deeply. During our work shifts, other agents and I always talked about how coming to work was like the “black hole”, swallowing us up slowly, with no purpose, no mission. We talked about how the skills from duties we performed many times down south would soon atrophy here. I’ve talked to agents who confidentially expressed that they are depressed and are going “crazy”, because there is no casework to do. But during musters PAIC McCool, APAIC Carroll, FOS Cano and supervisors always kept to the same rhetoric: “we have tons of work here, the law is the law, there are drug smugglers here, there are gangs here, there is lots of cross border activity here, we have much intelligence here…go get them”. If an agent ever refutes or questions what they say, management continues with the rhetoric. The agents almost want to believe it, because it’s shameful to actually admit that we, as men, have no purpose here. At first I believed them. But after a year I saw no evidence of anything they claimed. I could not stop denying it to myself. There was no work to be done here. The worst fraud on taxpayers is that we are getting paid overtime not to work. When I first started working here at the Port Angeles Station September 13, 2009 I noticed it was common practice for everyone to get paid overtime not to work. Back then there were about twenty-four agents and our entire station was receiving at least two hours of Administratively Uncontrolled Overtime. Another agent has told me how he caught SBPA White with his gun belt off, feet on the table, and reading his 300 page book of leisure while on his 10 hour shift. My supervisor SBPA Orr used his entire shift and AUO time to clean his tools and practice his musical instruments for the Border Patrol Honor Guard. Management has told me to just drive during my 10 hours on shift. APAIC Carroll encourages us agents to drive around the Olympic Peninsula during our 10 hour shift, yet management never leaves the office. We agents call this drive “the Baja 500”, though it’s a 300mile drive. Agents who play ball and don’t challenge the misuse of federal funds are rewarded with special detail assignments for career enhancement, or preferred days off. To quantify this indefensible spending that I personally have witnessed, each of the forty plus current agents get at least two hours daily of time and a half which amounts to twenty-five percent of our base pay. The forty plus agents at my station include the PAIC, APAIC, FOS, seven supervisors and all the agents. Some of the new agents have not reached the full maturity of a GS-12 step 1 and others are past this step. For example, a GS-12 step 1 has a base pay of approximately $68,000 a year, and twenty-five percent of that amount, for AUO only, would be approximately $17,000. In October 2010 I started to reject AUO. By late January 2011 I had completely stopped working my AUO. In May 2011 I was de-certified, and am now at 0% AUO. My supervisors SBPA Orr, FOS Cano, and APAIC Carroll do not always allow me to leave after eight hours, however, even when there is no casework to do. SBPA Orr had said I needed to obey his direct order if asked to stay during my AUO. They would give me make-work to keep me there. Supervisors and upper management didn’t want to set a precedent that it was all right to leave and not work your AUO, because then this would show no need for the extra overtime hours my station requested and it would also make the station look like it was not productive. This would raise flags to our Blaine Sector. The lack of work does not just waste taxpayer money, or abandon our mission protecting the borders. It leads to bad morale and a dangerously unhealthy work environment. I am familiar with what happens when there is no work to do. In the Navy, when we got bored or finished our task on ship or land, sailors, created havoc and attacked one another. This is the situation at my station, where there is rarely ever, if at all, any cross-border activity. For all practical purposes, we have no mission any more. Upper management, supervisors, agents, support staff and resources are not being used for the intended purpose of the agency. RETALIATION When I began to speak up or question the waste and misuse I saw, I became a prominent target of harassment from PAIC McCool, APAIC Carroll and FOS Cano. I didn’t want to lie or work in the “grey” on casework, or lie and claim my AUO, when there is no casework. I have explained this to PAIC McCool, APAIC Carroll and FOS Cano. But they just ignore my comments and harass me in a retaliatory manner. I came to Port Angeles Station with an exemplary record, but soon found myself getting charged with repeated misconduct for speaking out. Since I have claimed our station was misusing federal funds, I have had to adjust to steady, daily harassment. Any assignment I am given seems to be a trap to “get me” or an excuse for me to make a mistake and write me up with the motivation of totally discrediting me. Below are examples. * I was told by Supervisor (SBPA) Christopher Dyer and SBPA Jonathon White that I no longer could have my cellular phone out where it was visible while wearing my service uniform, because it conflicted with the uniform policy. Yet I see agents and supervisors doing just this regularly, including SBPA White. * There have been many times that my days off are not given to me, although I request them in advance. There are many less senior agents on my shift, yet it was my days off that my supervisor shifted, not the less senior agents. When I would ask SBPA Orr why I didn’t get my correct days off, he would just say that “the needs of the agency come first.” I stopped asking why. * When there is no supervisor, a senior agent is usually made shift supervisor for that day, and is responsible to give out the assignments and do a shift report at the end of the shift. Though I may be the most senior person on my shift, management will not leave me the assignment of being shift supervisor. They will leave this assignment with any less senior agent to perform besides me. * I had received a set of uniforms from VF Solutions Company. They are always mailed to the station where the agent works. My supervisor told me APAIC Carroll told him he had received my box of uniforms, but it had gone to another place of business and not to my station. When I saw my box it had a huge label on it that said U.S Customs and Border Patrol, with my name, and was very official. My box was wide open and everything in it was moved around. I asked other agents if their boxes had gone to other businesses and had received an open box and they said no. This only happened to me. * On February 27, 2010 I drove to work and SBPA White followed me in a suspicious tailgating manner, in pitch darkness for two miles and didn’t stop me. At the time I didn’t know it was my supervisor, or why he was following me so closely. At muster he told me he was about to run my plates, because I was driving reckless and speeding. I asked SBPA White to show me where it said a Border Patrol Agent has the authority to tailgate a civilian vehicle for driving violations. SBPA White just said it was in the law books, and we had the authority to do it. He decided not to write me up. We discussed how this situation, city patrol, could have gone very wrong since there were no identifiable lights on his supervisor vehicle, and he continued to tail-gate me so closely, and all done before shift started. * On April 5, 2010, during our one to three hour musters SBPA Christopher Dyer and SBPA White brought up the issue of locking our vehicles in the unsecured agency parking lot. Since I was written up for forgetting to lock my vehicle in October 2009, I made suggestions on how I could help secure the vehicles at the end of shift not to “get the agents,” but instead to help them. This made my supervisors very upset and SBPA Dyer used foul language toward me. They both wrote me up. I let APAIC Carroll know of my continued harassment by these supervisors in a memo, but he didn’t help. Retaliation intensified after January 2011, when I stopped accepting AUO. * On February 1, 2011 I was written up with a formal counseling because I did not do my voucher within the five day requirement. Management knew that I had attempted to do it the week prior, but purposely give me other tasks to do, when I tried to work on the voucher. They were setting me up. I was surrounded by SBPA Orr, SBPA White, FOS Cano and APAIC Carroll. All four had participated in previous harassing tactics toward me and I was surrounded by them. Therefore, in light of the bully tactics and previous harassment from each, I brought out my cell phone and recorded the four minutes of the formal counseling, in plain view in a public area. I knew this formal counseling with four managers surrounding me was not about the five days policy. It was because I wasn’t playing ball, I wasn’t claiming my AUO. APAIC Carroll then asked me if I had recorded the formal counseling and I said yes. He told me it was against Washington State law to do and the next day he and SBPA Dyer told me they wanted me to write a detailed memo on why I did the recording. APAIC Carroll also handed me a “cease and desist” mandate from Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Wesley Vanderheyden. The APAIC Carroll went on to say he had reported me to the Joint Intake Center (JIC) in Washington D.C., and I would be investigated. This seemed like a serious issue to me, and I knew their goal was to fire me. I turned in my detailed memo, and wrote that I was being harassed by upper management and supervisors due to refusing to lie on official paperwork. I would not claim my AUO if there was no casework to do, just so that our Port Angeles could receive a “stat.” The retaliatory investigation gained steam. On March 8, 2011 APAIC Carroll ordered me to give sworn testimony to APAIC Michael J Harrison, which was a conflict of interest since he happened to be APAIC Carroll’s close friend. On April 20, 2011 FOS Cano let me know I was to give sworn testimony again, but only as a witness, and again to APAIC Carroll’s close friend Mr. Harrison. But this time my testimony lasted five hours with a one five minute break, when on March 22, 2011 it lasted one hour, if that. * On February 2, 2011 APAIC Carroll asked if I needed a name and number for Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to request psychological help, and he gave me their card. On March 8, 2011 SBPA Dyer also offered me EAP services. On June 20, 2011 FOS Cano was very heated with me because my student, during ATV class instruction, incurred operational damage to the Border Patrol ATV. This same day peer support agents and supervisors approached me and said they were told to offer me professional help, EAP. I have declined any EAP services. * On February 28, 2011, SBPA White warned me that under Washington state law I had thirty days to change my driver’s license from California to Washington. He said I wasn’t following the Washington State Law and could be stopped. Then I would have to report this driving violation stop to my PAIC or APAIC with a possible disciplinary consequence, he added. He further stated I had been in Washington State long enough (since September 2010) and should have already changed my driver’s license. Yet the new agents/supervisors at the Port Angeles Station have been here for a year or more and have not changed their drivers’ licenses. Soon after SBPA White warned me, I changed my driver’s license from California to Washington. * On March 28, 2011 APAIC Carroll said another agent and I, who a year prior also had spoken out, were going to be given a random urinalysis test. This didn’t seem so random but more retaliatory, since I was claiming a misuse of federal funds at our station. APAIC Carroll said he and PAIC McCool were also chosen randomly by Washington D.C. to do the test, which seemed weird also, that the two top people would be tested on the same day with me. I asked other agents who had been at the station for 3-4 years, when was the last time a urinalysis was given at this station? They couldn’t even recall this happening. A confidential witness just laughed and told me this was not random. He went on to say “you two agents are the biggest thorns in their sides here at the station, it wasn’t a random test”. Down south the agency does do random urinalysis test on the agents, but it’s done on an entire shift of agents, to not single anybody out. * On June 21, 2011 FOS Cano was very heated and upset, because I didn’t give him a memo the day before, although he had said I could give it to him the next day. So he wrote me up, and my memo went to Chief John C. Bates. It does not stop with record building, however. The harassment extends to my family’s privacy. When my family and I travel to our lawyer appointments, we are followed to the location and someone usually follows us as we leave. The drivers always make eye contact with me, and they all have either the “cleaned up” version of an under cover officer or the “dirty and unassuming” version. I recognize these versions of an undercover officer or an investigative unit, because this is what my agency does -- surveillance. We agents are trained in these techniques, and some agents are better than others. Usually there is already an under cover officer on foot, close by to the location and standing. It is never the same agent. Again they all make eye contact with me. It is obvious we are looking at each other but nothing is ever said. On one of my appointments with my family, a “dirty and unassuming” version of an undercover officer was already at my lawyer’s location. He was standing up against the building, and we made eye contact. My wife and I were trying to get the children out of the vehicle, and from the corner of my eye I saw him getting closer to us. When he was three feet away we made eye contact as if he were going to speak to me, but he didn’t. He was holding a small camera as he walked away. He started lifting up the camera and taking pictures of the law building and the restaurant facing the street. As we left from our appointment and we helped the children back into the car, I noticed another “dirty and unassuming” version of an undercover officer in the café below the office. While he was in the café, I was about seven to ten feet away. We made eye contact as well. As with the previous agents, we continued to observe each other. I helped my children into the car to leave. I have different harassment incidences of this same kind regularly happening to me and my family. There was also a time, when on my way to a lawyer appointment, with my family, that the car driving head on in the left lane started taking pictures of us from their car. All my wife and I could see was camera flashes from the other vehicle, going at a reduced speed, two feet away from the driver’s side. We continued driving. Another example of the “ugly” harassment we, as a family, must endure is when cars with tinted windows and sometimes with the windows rolled down do a “slow roll” up and down my street in front of my house. We live in a small, non traffic, community. It is easily known who lives nearby. I can especially recognize a car that doesn’t reside in this neighborhood when it goes past my house, does a u-turn, and again does a “slow roll” past my house. Sometimes they are different makes/models and other times it’s the same repeat vehicles. This happens about three to four times a week, about twice a day, to my family when I am not home. My wife and children many times just come into the house immediately. On my two days off this harassment is more frequent, about three times a day and it usually isn’t the same car. But the behavior is the same, “slow roll” going past my house and coming back. The driver is always driving so slowly, one to five miles, you can see his face, make eye contact, see his license plate number and he pretty much leans his body toward our house. The different drivers all exhibit this same intimidating behavior. On one of these incidents of harassment, a driver decided to not only do the “slow roll” past by house but back into the wooded forest area, in front of my house, with the front of his car facing our breakfast table. This was one of my days off. My wife, children and I were eating breakfast, when I noticed a car in the wooded forest, with its head lights pointed toward our house. The man in the vehicle was just starring at me and my family as we ate our breakfast. We immediately stopped breakfast, and moved the children to a different part of the house. My wife and I brought out our binoculars, stood at the breakfast window and watched him. He never made eye contact. We could see his face very clearly. There wasn’t anything about him or that vehicle he could hide. As we watched he started getting nervous, so he started scratching his face, blinking his eyes erratically, cleaning his dashboard, eating his sandwich, taking long gulps of his drink, and intensely reading his book. He couldn’t sit still. Twelve minutes later, he put his seat belt on and drove away from our house, never to be seen again. We tried to continue breakfast with the children as best we could. Also in May 2011, my five year old received a gift from their grandmother for her birthday. She was so excited. We were away for a week and found the box next to the front door of the house. My daughter asked, “Why is my gift open, Daddy?” I noticed the box was opened, untapped and her special gifts were jumbled up inside. This was identical to the April 2011 incident of my uniforms that APAIC Carroll said were delivered to a different business, but the box had been tampered with. This was the first time this had happened to my family, and I have asked grandma to hold off on sending anything to our house. All these intensified, uglier incidents targeting my family started in February 2011. This intimidating behavior scares my stay-at-home wife and three small children, very much. I understand the nature of this job. The surveillance of me doesn’t scare me, but it does terrify my wife and sometimes causes her to cry when she and I are in private. My wife has told me that as he innocently swings in our unfenced yard, my oldest child, who is six, has said “Mommy, is that man in that car looking at me?”, and “Why did he stop his car, Mommy?” There are many days when our yard swing set is not used, out of my wife’s fear of these suspicious vehicles doing “slow rolls” from and to our house. There really is no purpose in using highly paid agents to engage in surveillance of my stay at home wife and children. If I didn’t understand my agency or the method of surveillance, the agent’s behavior would prompt me to confront then in a rude manner in defense of my wife and children. I would give local law enforcement the license plate numbers of the suspicious vehicles. But then this would escalate. The driver, local law enforcement and I would be discredited by my agency. I would immediately have to report any incident involving me to APAIC McCool or APAIC Carroll. I have to wonder, however, how much money is being spent to tail me and watch my family, all because I don’t want the taxpayers to pay for us not to work. The most ironic harassment has been removing my duties as Chaplain. I only spoke about God when I was asked, but that was very rare. My love of doing something for someone must be sincere and it was, even if it meant just listening to anyone who was seeking God’s hope. On February 16, 2011 the head agent of the Chaplaincy program, in Blaine Sector Washington called me. He said that due to my protest memo and the investigation of me, my privileged title of Chaplain for the Border Patrol was going to be taken away. He said he got this directive from head of the Border Patrol Chaplaincy program in Washington D.C. I have challenged the betrayal of taxpayers as a Christian, after much prayer and consultation with my wife. After doing the same I am here today, despite knowing that it likely will mean far more intense, even uglier retaliation. But working within the agency has not helped. These crimes against the taxpayers only can occur if they are kept secret. I hope that Congress will act. In a time when we as a nation are not financially healthy, I want to shine light on the misuse of federal funds that is taking place at my Border Patrol Station in Port Angeles, Washington. I am testifying today, as a public servant whose duty is to defend the taxpayers. The Government Employees Code of Ethics is on the wall in every government office, even my Border Patrol Station in Port Angeles, Washington. Its principle in words is that we â€œput loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, or Government Department.â€?