SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — The U.S. Border Patrol on Monday ordered an investigation of allegations by agents in Southern California that they were given arrest quotas and threatened with punishment if they failed to meet them.
Jeffrey Calhoon, El Centro's chief patrol agent, said he learned the patrol agent in charge of the agency's Riverside station some 100 miles north of the Mexican border gave agents numerical goals for how many suspected illegal immigrants they should arrest in January.
Calhoon says he has ordered a probe into whether agents were told they would be punished if they failed to meet this target.
"If there is some threatening behavior, we're not going to tolerate it," Calhoon said.
The probe comes after Border Patrol agents in Riverside said they were ordered to arrest at least 150 suspected illegal immigrants in January or faced having their work shifts changed.
No one has been suspended during the probe, said Richard Velez, an agency spokesman.
Calhoon said the agency does use goals to inspire agents, for example, by driving units to compete against each other, and often the measuring stick turns out to be number of arrests. But he said setting numeric targets was not common practice — nor one he would recommend.
"It would not be the normal method of refocusing work effort," he said.
Agents said the 150-arrest mandate for the station last month was a jump from targets set at the end of last year to make 100 arrests in each November and December.
"I don't know if there is a difference between goals and quotas if we have numbers," said Lombardo Amaya, president of Local 2554 of the National Border Patrol Council. "For this reason, I think numbers are out of place."
Amaya said Calhoon guaranteed that agents at the 15-person station would not be punished if they didn't make the target.
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council — which represents close to 15,000 Border Patrol agents nationwide — said he wanted to see a fair and impartial investigation and appropriate punishment if the allegations were true.
Immigrant advocates said they worried such quotas could be driving agents to make arrests in heavily populated areas far from the border to keep up their numbers. Advocates have been sending monitors to day labor corners with video cameras to document the arrests and have called for a march on Saturday to protest the increased enforcement.
Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center, questioned whether the Border Patrol might be bolstering efforts inland because of a recent decline in traffic across the Mexican border.
"They have been very visible," said Emilio Amaya, whose non-profit provides legal services to immigrants. "This was not an issue in the past."