In an executive order made last January, President Trump called for the Customs and Border Protection team to add an additional 5,000 agents. The move, he promised, would help deter terrorism and crime. John Oliver argued on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight that increasing border forces might have the reverse effect and lead to “devastating consequences.”
The comedian warned that hastily beefing up CBP forces was a failed experiment during the Bush administration, where, in a post-9/11 hiring surge, he doubled the amount of border patrol agents. Meanwhile, essential training standards – including Spanish and physical training – were scaled back.
“The new standards affected agents’ ability to talk to the people they caught and their ability to catch the people they wanted to talk to, which seem like pretty essential facets of their job,” Oliver said. “It’s like if the training program at SeaWorld left out putting on a wetsuit and systematically driving carnivorous whales insane. That’s the whole job there! Take them away, you’re left with nothing else!”
The screening process wasn’t as strict as normal, with polygraph tests only introduced late in the surge. Roughly half of applicants had already cleared “the highest level of background check” before the lie detector revealed numerous issues – including, in select cases, connections to criminal cartels – that made them unfit to serve. From there, the level of corruption and misconduct among border agents “skyrocketed,” Oliver noted.
“This is a story about the danger of not learning from your mistakes,” the host said. “And for the sake of absolutely everybody – people on both sides of the border and the good border patrol agents just trying to do a difficult job well – if we’re going to hire all these new people, the very least we can do is be more careful this time around.”