Embattled Border Patrol chief in El Paso transferred to Detroit

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DETROIT – The head of Border Patrol in El Paso, Texas – who drew criticism this year over conditions for migrants in his care – has been transferred to Detroit, where he will lead the federal law enforcement agency in Michigan and some other northern states.

Aaron Hull, the chief patrol agent for Border Patrol in the El Paso sector in western Texas, will start Monday as the interim chief patrol agent for the Detroit sector on temporary duty assignment, according to an official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

The official said that “multiple members of the Border Patrol’s senior leadership team are currently rotating on” temporary duty assignments  “in both Headquarters roles and senior field positions nationwide.”

The Detroit sector includes all of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. The area he is responsible for has 863 miles of international border with Canada.

Hull has drawn criticism for how Border Patrol has housed migrants in the El Paso area, which has seen an influx of migrants, mainly from Central American countries. Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General issued an alert about what it called “dangerous overcrowding” in migrant centers in the El Paso area that Hull oversaw.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and 13 other members of Congress visited Border Patrol centers in El Paso and Clint, Texas, earlier this month and described what they said were poor and unsanitary conditions. Tlaib told the Detroit Free Press that the migrants she met in the Border Patrol centers seemed scared, with some unable to shower or get clean water and medical attention.

On Friday evening, Tlaib released a statement to the Detroit Free Press, saying she was concerned about Hull’s transfer to Detroit.

“I am concerned that we have a chief that has been trained to address the humanitarian crisis at the border in a way that would hurt our communities at home,” Tlaib said. “I personally toured CBP Station 1 and the Clint facility with Chief Hull. … Chief Hull has done the bidding of this Administration with intolerable consequences for immigrants, and even to the detriment of his own agents. I witnessed agents breaking protocol in front of Chief Hull while on my tour, which makes me concerned he allows bad behavior to continue without accountability.”

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Tlaib said: “I have deep concerns that Chief Hull will bring the inhumane conditions and dehumanizing behavior I witnessed at the southern border to Metro Detroit.”

NBC News, which first reported the news of Hull’s transfer to Detroit, said Hull is known as a “law and order” Border Patrol chief, according to a Department of Homeland Security official. A New York Times report said “Hull is known among colleagues as tough and law-enforcement oriented,” citing two Homeland Security officials. 

The transfer of Hull has caused some concern among regional immigrant advocates. Lynn Tramonte, director of the Ohio Immigrant Alliance, said Hull’s transfer is “very bad news for Ohio & Michigan.”

Border Patrol did not comment beyond a statement saying that Hull will be sent to Detroit.

In an interview with CNN earlier this month, Hull said, “I would dispute that the conditions are so bad as have been reported.”

After the visit of Tlaib and other members of Congress, Border Patrol said in a statement that the migrants are getting three meals a day and clean drinking water. A Border Patrol spokesman said they have invested “in additional restroom and shower facilities, hygiene products, increased medical support and expanded transportation capabilities.”

While the Detroit border area does not face the type of influx seen at the southern border, it has sizable immigrant and minority communities who have expressed concern about how Border Patrol in Michigan operates. Latinos, including those who are U.S. citizens and were born in the U.S., have said they are targeted by Border Patrol.

Almost one in three people processed by Border Patrol agents in Michigan are U.S. citizens, according to data obtained by the ACLU. About 82% of foreign citizens stopped by Border Patrol are Latino, the data showed. Less than 2% of foreign citizens stopped in Michigan have a criminal record.

Another issue in Michigan with Border Patrol is that the entire state is considered part of a 100-mile zone near a border that allows federal immigration agents additional powers to search people or vehicles.

The ACLU has expressed concern that Border Patrol in Michigan has enhanced powers that can be used to target minorities.  Latinos have expressed concern about being profiled by Border Patrol in Detroit at Amtrak train stations and Greyhound bus stops.

Border Patrol officials have said they do not target people based on their ethnicity.

“It is the policy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to prohibit the consideration of race or ethnicity in law enforcement, investigation and screening activities, in all but the most exceptional circumstances,” CBP spokesman Kris Grogan said last year.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., who visited a Border Patrol detention center in McAllen, Texas, earlier this month, said he would be open to meeting with Hull.

“I really want to hear and make sure we are fully respecting immigrants and we are protecting our borders in a way that respects everyone’s rights,” Levin told the Free Press on Friday. 

Tlaib added in her statement:  “I grew up in a northern border community and have watched the growing militarization of our southwest Detroit neighborhoods. We must protect our residents from being targeted and becoming victims of the broken system. CBP has a culture that dehumanizes immigrants, and excuses about a lack of resources and funding are flimsy and certainly no justification. Our communities and the families in them cannot truly be safe if CPB is not held accountable.” 

In fiscal year 2018, Border Patrol made 1,930 apprehensions in the Detroit sector, compared with 31,561 apprehensions in the El Paso sector, which includes western Texas and New Mexico, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Follow Niraj Warikoo on Twitter: @nwarikoo

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