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Thread: 'The Green Line': Border Patrol union takes center stage under Trump

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  1. #1
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    May 2006

    'The Green Line': Border Patrol union takes center stage under Trump

    March 24, 2017 Updated 8:49 a.m.

    In this Feb. 21, 2017 image, Shawn Moran, a National Border Patrol Council vice president, speaks on air as part of "The Green Line," a weekly radio show by the U.S. Border Patrol agents' union that is sponsored by the conservative Breitbart News, in Solana Beach, Calif.

    SOLANA BEACH, Calif. – Once a week, union leaders representing U.S. Border Patrol agents host a radio show from a sleepy office park near San Diego, where studio walls are covered with an 8-by-12-foot American flag and portraits of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

    For about an hour, the agents mix discussions about border security with shoptalk and freewheeling news commentary in a show that airs by podcast and on a radio station in Tucson, Ariz..

    The show has a somewhat unlikely lead sponsor: the hard-right Breitbart News site, which isn’t known as a fan of labor unions. The hosts open a revealing window into how union leaders hope to reshape enforcement on 6,000 miles of border with Mexico and Canada.

    The show, called “The Green Line” for the color of Border Patrol uniforms, is aimed at agents, Congress and the news media. It’s part of a 4-year-old effort to raise the union’s profile, a strategy that included outspoken support for Trump’s presidential bid.

    That move paid off in November. Within a week of Trump taking office, the Border Patrol chief was forced out and replaced by a union favorite to lead the agency as it undertakes a major hiring spree.

    The union, headed by a former member of Trump’s transition team, has endeared itself to the president, whose top strategist, Steve Bannon, led Breitbart News before joining the White House. The conservative site features the union’s views in its border stories, while acknowledging the sponsorship.

    The show’s hosts alternate between workplace gripes like radios that don’t work in remote areas and topics in the news. They have called the Black Lives Matter activists “domestic terrorists” and Mexico “a corrupt country.”

    One recent morning, they scorned an airline worker who maligned the Border Patrol when a co-host checked in for a flight, lawmakers who want to declare California a sanctuary state and unidentified pockets of the agency that have resisted Trump’s directives to expand immigration enforcement. The discussion turned to a Supreme Court hearing involving a Mexican teen slain by an agent who fired across the border. The question was whether the agent could be sued.

    Are agents “going to be second-guessing themselves when the rocks are flying, when the cinderblocks are flying?” asked co-host Shawn Moran, a vice president of the National Border Patrol Council. “Are they going to hesitate and say, ‘You know what? This guy could end up suing me.’ Forget the fact that he could end up killing the agent.”

    The union’s ascendancy comes as Trump prepares to add 5,000 Border Patrol agents, hire more immigration judges and deportation officers and build a wall along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Last week, the administration called for companies to build wall prototypes in San Diego, not far from “The Green Line” studio.

    “The Green Line” arranged Breitbart’s support through Brandon Darby, a onetime left-wing activist turned FBI informer who helped convict two people accused of a bomb plot during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Darby attracted the notice of founder Andrew Bretibart, who recruited him to join the upstart news site.

    As managing director of Breitbart Texas, Darby published leaked photos inside overcrowded child-detention facilities in 2014, drawing attention to a surge of Central Americans crossing the border. Darby and Bannon — who led Breitbart after its founder died in 2012 — created “Cartel Chronicles,” a bilingual feature about organized crime that includes articles from dangerous parts of Mexico written under pseudonyms.

    Breitbart editors call its sponsorship a show of support for front-line agents.

    “‘The Green Line’ is something I’m very proud of because it’s these guys and gals having a voice,” Darby said, referring to the Border Patrol agents.

    The union’s rhetoric troubles groups whose complaints of a trigger-happy culture gained traction in Barack Obama’s administration. The union criticized independent reviews that faulted practices on use of force and employee discipline and bristled at an employee award for avoiding deadly force when confronting armed suspects.

    “They want to be unfettered,” said Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human-rights advocacy group. “Most law enforcement agents do, but they’re especially vocal about it. They have forcefully resisted efforts to reform.”

    Union President Brandon Judd calls the criticisms overblown and said the Border Patrol’s record stacks up well against other agencies considering border agents’ high arrest counts. Customs and Border Protection says employees fired guns 27 times last year. That number has declined each year since 58 in 2012.

    The union clashed with a former FBI official who was picked in June to be the first outsider to lead the Border Patrol since its creation in 1924. Mark Morgan, who handled use-of-force issues as head of internal affairs for the Border Patrol’s parent agency in 2014, was replaced by a career agent, Ronald Vitiello, the union’s initial choice.

    Judd said there’s no need for a wall from California to Texas and that natural barriers such as the Rio Grande in Texas often suffice, a message that he said appeared to register with Trump when the men met after the election.

    A top union priority is ending “catch and release,” a term that Trump and others use for freeing people while they await a court date, which can take years.

    Union leaders have faced some internal blowback over a 2014 law that slashed overtime pay. When challenged by the president of the Detroit local on “The Green Line,” Moran said the pay legislation could have been worse.

    Judd, who has led the union since 2013, points to the high percentage of agents who join as a measure of the organization’s internal support. Its latest filing with the Labor Department shows 12,622 dues-paying members in 2015 out of roughly 15,000 eligible, or more than 80 percent.

    “We’ve increased our profile to where we’re able to get our message out,” Judd said.
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  2. #2
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    May 2006

    After Trump Comes to Talk, Border Agents Find Their Political Voice

    MARCH 28, 2017

    Art Del Cueto, president of the Border Patrol union in Tucson, records a podcast: “They’re illegal aliens, that’s what they are, and we’ll say it all day long on the Green Line.” Credit Caitlin O'Hara for The New York Times

    TUCSON — Around the time that Donald J. Trump unofficially clinched the Republican nomination for president last May, he carved 10 minutes out of his schedule for an interview on “The Green Line,” an obscure podcast by the union of Border Patrol agents that was making its debut on a local talk-radio station.

    For Mr. Trump, who had only to bellow his build-a-wall cry to stir his supporters into a frenzy, the interview offered a distinctive opportunity. He could take unchallenged digs at President Barack Obama while direct-selling his hard-line vision of border security to the very agents whose job it is to secure the border.

    “I have you 100 percent in my mind and I have your back, believe me,” Mr. Trump told them on Episode 77, released on May 15, 2016. “You are incredible people and we are with you 100 percent.”

    Until then, “The Green Line” sounded more like a mix of water-cooler banter and office bulletin board, where grievances on pay, leadership, uniforms and untrustworthy bosses were streamed online for internal Border Patrol consumption.

    The banter is still there. But the interview with Mr. Trump — on the heels of the union’s endorsement of him, its first in a presidential primary — amplified the podcast’s reach and profile, turning it into an influential, unfiltered and entirely one-sided political megaphone.

    “We’re not going to apologize for what we believe in,” said Shawn Moran, the podcast’s original host and a vice president for the union, known as the National Border Patrol Council.

    In 148 episodes (and counting), Mr. Moran and a recurring cast of agents-turned-union officials have criticized journalists, protesters, civil rights groups, Mr. Obama, the Mexican government, progressives, the “Hollywood elite” and anyone else they say has stood in the way of agents trying to do their job as they believe they should — including the leadership of the Border Patrol.

    “Our managers now are turning around and saying, ‘You cannot call them illegal aliens,’” Art Del Cueto, a vice president in the national council, griped on Episode 125, released on Dec. 15. “They’re illegal aliens, that’s what they are, and we’ll say it all day long on The Green Line.”

    The hosts have persistently criticized the polygraph tests that are required of anyone who is applying to become a border agent, saying they take too long, are often confrontational in tone and fail far more people than similar tests carried out by other federal agencies.

    They have labeled reporters who cover topics in a way they do not approve as activists. Chris Cabrera, vice president of Local 3307 in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, once accused Jorge Ramos, the Univision anchor, of having a vendetta against Mr. Trump. Fox News correspondent William La Jeunesse, on the other hand, has received warm welcomes in his appearances on the show.

    They have also railed against the Obama administration’s hierarchy of priorities that forced border and immigration agents to focus on only deporting serious criminals. Then, they celebrated the new hard-line attitude by Mr. Trump.

    “It’s a good time to be a Border Patrol agent right now,” the union’s president, Brandon Judd, said on Episode 143, released on March 9. “One thing that President Trump did that no politicians had done previous is he kept the conversation on the border.”

    Mr. Del Cueto, who is also president of Local 2544, which represents 3,000 agents in the Tucson Sector, the Border Patrol’s largest regional division, replied, “He’s definitely kept his foot on the pedal.”

    The union’s foray into podcasting began in July 2012, when it launched “State of the Union,” which focused on work matters.

    “State of the Union” eventually merged into “The Green Line,” whose first episode came online on Sept. 23, 2014. Six months later, the podcast gained a major sponsor, Breitbart News, the conservative-leaning organization with an outsize influence in the Trump administration; its former executive chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, is a chief strategist to the president.

    In the early days of “The Green Line,” Mr. Moran said he recorded episodes from hotel rooms, his patio and “every Starbucks within five miles of my house.” These days, he records and edits them from the Breitbart News studios in San Diego, though the production can still have an amateur feel. Sometimes, one can hear the ping of a text message landing on a host’s cellphone.

    On Tuesday, when it came time to work on Episode 148 — the main theme, again, was the polygraph test — Mr. Moran was ready. He had worked on radio before, as a disc jockey, back when he was studying criminal justice in the mid-1990s at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania, not far from his hometown Raritan, N.J.

    Mr. Del Cueto, his counterpart in Tucson, was born in Mexico and brought up in Douglas, Ariz., which is just on the other side of the border. His mother is Mexican, his wife is Mexican and Spanish is the language he speaks at home, he said.

    “I’m not anti-immigrant,” he said in an interview. “But my job is to catch the people who think it’s O.K. to break the law to come into this country, and I’m not cool with that.”

    He took his position inside his office here, in a squat building with no sign near a Domino’s Pizza and a Walmart. He slipped on a pair of headphones and bobbed his head as a guitar riff from Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” played into his ears.

    Then, his lips began to move in silence, mimicking the words of Colonel Jessep, Jack Nicholson’s character in the courtroom drama “A Few Good Men” — the podcast’s opening salvo: “Because deep down in places you don’t talk about in parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.”

    Mr. Del Cueto believes in a border wall. “I lock my front door not because I hate the people outside, but because I love the people inside,” he said.
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