The unprecedented crisis at the southern border appears to have a nexus to the catastrophic plight taking place among Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel as three agents have taken their own lives in November. Tragically, this brings the number of CBP suicides in 2022 to 14, more than any year in over a decade, the agency told the New York Post.
Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) is responsible for the congressional district that runs along the U.S.-Mexico border from Del Rio to El Paso. “It’s a very serious epidemic that’s happening within the agency,” he noted.
Agents have been dealing with unmitigated disasters on the southern border as more than 2 million people have illegally crossed into the U.S. in the past year. This has led to hundreds of immigrant deaths, children arriving alone at border crossings, and long work hours for CBP personnel, to wit their work environment is high-stress due to the ongoing irresponsible political moves. Moreover, many agents and officers have been removed from the field — their first love — and placed in administrative and even babysitting assignments. Add it all up and Gonzales believes it is taking an enormous toll on CBP agents.
“Work has gotten very difficult on them,” explained Gonzales, who is in touch with CBP agents daily. “I’ve seen it in their faces. I’ve heard it in their voices for months now. It’s almost, ‘How much can a person take?’ And often, they’ve taken a lot before they break.”
Border Patrol Agent Robert M. Boatwright, 49, was identified Monday as the latest agent to take his life. He was stationed in Las Cruces, New Mexico, according to The Post.
“Sadly, early indications suggest that BPA Boatwright succumbed to suicide,” tweeted Chief Raul Ortiz, the head of the Border Patrol, without specifying the method of death.
“I recently met with BPA Boatwright’s co-workers, and they described his amazing work ethic and willingness to help others.”
Border Patrol Agent Robert M. Boatwright was a K9 handler assigned to the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector. (Twitter / @USBPChief)
Boatwright died Nov. 20. He had been an agent for 10 years and working as a K9 handler since 2016. He previously served in the U.S. Army. He left behind a wife and two children. His son Dallas is serving as a U.S. Marine, currently stationed in Japan, according to Ortiz.
The other two deaths took place on successive weekends earlier in the month, with Supervisory Border Patrol Agents Roque “Rocky” Sarinana and Javier R. Fabela taking their lives on Nov. 6 and 13, respectively.
Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Javier R. Fabela, 49, was part of an intelligence unit. (Dignity Memorial)
The National Border Patrol Council is the union that represents 18,000 Border Patrol agents. They confirmed there have been 14 suicides in 2022. They include eight Border Patrol agents, five Office of Field Operations officers and one support staffer. In prior years the agency has recorded as low as five and as high as 12 suicides, according to the union, The Post reported.
The union began to tally known agency suicides in 2007. Since then they’ve experienced 149 deaths by suicide. The average age for the victims is 41-years-old with 11 years of service at the time of their respective deaths, according to statistics provided to the news outlet.
Dr. Kent Corso is a “suicidologist.” He has been hired by CBP to help the agency understand and work to do its best to help prevent future suicides.
Corso has already met with agents in Laredo, Texas, and plans to travel to the Rio Grande Valley, where two of the agents who killed themselves worked. He is offering a suicide prevention session, according to the agents’ union.
Roque “Rocky” Sarinana died by suicide Nov. 6. (Dignity Memorial)
“There is no higher priority for CBP than taking care of our people,” a CBP spokesperson said in a statement to The Post. “CBP has expanded the number of on-site clinicians and is hiring over a dozen operational psychologists. Together, these licensed professionals implement an evidence-based suicide prevention and intervention program.”
The National Border Patrol Council believes CBP needs to end “fit for duty” protocols that agents are subjected to if they voice various forms of emotional turmoil.
Sergio Moreno, one of the union’s leaders, explained how in those situations (needing psychological care) become synonymous with agents who are placed under investigation or disciplined. They are required to surrender their badge and service weapon, are ineligible to work overtime and confined to desk duty, out of uniform.
As a result, there is a stigma built into the system for agents and officers who reach out for help.
“They treat those employees like second-hand members of the workforce,” said Moreno. “You’re not allowed to wear uniform, so the next day you come to work and [co-workers] say, ‘Either he got hurt or he did something wrong’ … they’re shamed. They’re ostracized.”
Furthermore, an agent must be medically and psychologically evaluated by agency-chosen doctors in order to return to normal duty.
“That ‘fit for duty’ process the agency forces their employees to go through is usually seen as the guillotine to your career,” Moreno said. “Our goal is change that culture.”
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, dial 9-8-8, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.