The unprecedented border crisis appears to be taking its toll on Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, with three agents killing themselves in November.
This brings the 2022 total suicides within the agency to 14, more than any year in over a decade, sources told The Post.
“It’s a very serious epidemic that’s happening within the agency,” said Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales (R) whose Congressional district runs along the US-Mexico border from Del Rio to El Paso.
While no single factor has been identified as the cause of the increase in agent suicides, Gonzales believes the ongoing migrant crisis – with more than two million people crossing the border in the last year, hundreds of immigrant deaths, children arriving alone at border crossings, long work hours, and dealing with high-stress situations – is taking its toll.
“Work has gotten very difficult on them,” explained Gonzales, who is in touch with Border Patrol agents every day. “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, who was stationed in Las Cruces, New Mexico, was identified as the most recent agent to commit suicide on Monday.
“Sadly, early indications suggest that BPA Boatwright succumbed to suicide,” tweeted Chief Raul Ortiz, the head of the Border Patrol, without specifying what lead to the 49-year-old’s death.
“I recently met with BPA Boatwright’s co-workers, and they described his amazing work ethic and willingness to help others.”
Boatwright, a US Army veteran, died Nov. 20. He had been an agent for 10 years and a canine handler since 2016. He left behind a wife and two children.
According to the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 18,000 Border Patrol agents, 14 Border Patrol agents have committed suicide in 2022. They consist of eight Border Patrol agents, five officers from the Office of Field Operations, and one support staffer. In previous years, they recorded between five and twelve suicides.
CBP has hired “suicidologist” Dr. Kent Corso to assist them with the problem. Although an individual’s decision to commit suicide is a complex one, with many factors from personal lives and various circumstances contributing, Corso is assisting the agency in understanding and working to help prevent further suicides.
Corso has already traveled to Laredo, Texas, to meet with agents and plans to travel to the Rio Grande Valley to give a suicide prevention session, where two of the agent who committed suicide worked, according to the agents’ union.
“There is no higher priority for CBP than taking care of our people,” said a spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection 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 agents are subjected to if they voice suicide, mental health or other struggles, like a loved one’s death.
According to Sergio Moreno of the National Border Patrol Council, in such cases, agents who seek assistance must surrender their badge and service weapon, are ineligible for overtime, and are confined to desk duty while out of uniform.
Moreno explained that the same protocol is followed when officers are investigated or disciplined, which could lead to colleagues having an incorrect perception of their coworkers.
“They treat those employees like second-class citizens,” Moreno said. “Because you’re not allowed to wear a uniform, the next day you come to work and [coworkers] say, ‘Either he got hurt or he did something wrong,’… they’re humiliated.” They’ve been shunned.”
In order to return to their normal duties, an agent must be medically and psychologically evaluated by agency-chosen doctors.
“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.”
Others working alongside CBP on the border have also been affected by suicide. The Army Times reported in December 2021 how four soldiers in the Texas National Guard working on Operation Lone star – Gov. Greg Abbott’s mission to secure the Texas border – had committed suicide that year, although the Texas Military Department disputed two of those.
National Guardsmen are deployed from other parts of the state to assist CBP in their operations. Another Texas National Guardsman died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in Eagle Pass at the beginning of October, according to Fox news.