The Border Patrol Union Leads the Charge on Title 42 Misinformation
With so much misinformation circulating about border and immigration policies, it doesn’t help to have Border Patrol union leaders stoking fear and white-supremacist conspiracy theories
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The Border Patrol Union Leads the Charge on Title 42 Misinformation
There’s an apocalypse coming. Maybe you’ve heard. America will no longer exist after May 23. At least not the America you knew.
The trigger for this cataclysmic event? The Biden administration will end Title 42 at the U.S.-Mexico border. And you should be quaking in your boots. So says Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), the union that represents approximately 18,000 U.S. border agents. He and other union leaders have been steadily fearmongering about the end of Title 42 for months, in anticipation of the Biden administration’s April 1st announcement that it will end the program.
In an April 4 interview with Fox news anchor Bill Hemmer, Judd predicted that an “astronomical” number of people will arrive after Title 42 ends. He then delved into white-supremacist ideology, saying that Democrats were intentionally letting people cross the border to “change the demographics of the electorate.”
Judd was echoing the “great replacement theory,” a white-supremacist belief with roots in the French nationalist movement of the early 20th century. According to this conspiracy theory, white people are being replaced by black and brown immigrants with the help of Jews. During the Trump era this fringe belief became a mainstream immigration talking point for Republicans and Fox News personalities like Tucker Carlson, which I wrote about in September.
With so much misinformation circulating about border policy and migration, it doesn’t help to have NBPC leaders spouting white-supremacist conspiracies and promoting a chaotic message about the U.S.-Mexico border. Since the beginning of the Biden administration, Judd and other union officials have worked to undermine any consensus with the administration.
Judd has been president of the NBPC since 2013. In 2016 the labor union, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), endorsed Donald Trump. It was the first time the union endorsed a presidential candidate since its formation in 1967. During Trump’s presidency, Judd became an unofficial adviser on border policy, attending press conferences with Trump, while Department of Homeland Security officials often stood on the sidelines.
Rank-and-file agents in the field can’t speak candidly with the media without approval from headquarters in Washington, which is almost never granted. Judd and other union leaders, such as vice president Art Del Cueto, can speak freely with reporters, and they frequently appear alongside Trump-endorsed candidates on right-wing media outlets such as One America News and Fox News. Judd, who is from Montana, devotes all his time to union business and rarely, if ever, works in the field. Del Cueto is based in Tucson.
The union also has its own podcast, the Green Line, which is hosted by Del Cueto and sponsored by Breitbart News, the far-right outlet formerly run by Steve Bannon, a chief Trump strategist, and funded by the billionaire Mercer family, who are Republican megadonors. On the podcast, the union promotes former Trump officials and candidates who support Trump, like Jim Lamon, who is running for U.S. Senate in Arizona. Lamon, a Republican, ran an ad during the Super Bowl portraying himself as an Old West sheriff—backed by Judd, who appeared in chaps, sporting a pistol—who take shots at Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Arizona senator Mark Kelly, whose wife former Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in 2011, while greeting constituents in Tucson.
In an April 2021 podcast, Del Cueto interviewed Stephen Miller, chief architect of many of Trump’s most cruel immigration policies, including family separation and Title 42. Del Cueto called Miller a “friend of the union . . . and all-around real good guy.”
Miller praised the union in return and said he’d been working with it since his days as a staffer for former senator Jeff Sessions. “When Donald Trump declared for the presidency in 2015,” Miller said, “I worked to help connect the Border Patrol council, you, Brandon and all your incredible members and officers with the Trump campaign, and of course the president was eager to work with you.”
Miller called the border under the Biden administration a “historic nightmare,” even though President Biden had been in office for only three months.
“The new administration has created a magnet for criminal cartels,” said Del Cueto. “It has created a magnet for more individuals to come in illegally causing all these issues.”
The two men, however, did not explain that Trump’s policies were still in place at the border, conflating this “historic nightmare” with Biden, who at the time was attempting to end the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy. A few months later, a U.S. district court in Texas forced the administration to reinstate it. Since then, Biden has expanded the program to include non-Spanish speaking migrants, such as Haitians.
Since the Biden administration’s announcement that Title 42 will end May 23, Judd, Del Cueto, and other union reps have doubled down on the chaos and fear rhetoric. They make Title 42 sound like an immigration policy instead of a provision of the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which the Trump administration activated to shut down asylum at the border, using the pandemic as a pretext. They did this even though health officials testified in Congress that Title 42 would not stop the spread of COVID-19, which was already in the country.
So what does Title 42 actually accomplish? It allows the Border Patrol to automatically send back migrants and asylum seekers either to Mexico or their country of origin without processing them. In doing so, they bypass U.S. asylum law, which grants anyone the legal right to request asylum at our borders.
Since March 2020, when the public health law was instituted, the only immigrants who have been allowed to cross are unaccompanied minors and parents traveling with children. But because the official ports of entry are closed to them under Title 42, they are forced to risk their lives crossing the river or desert. Some people, such as those from Venezuela, Ukraine and Cuba, are also being processed, since the U.S. considers them political refugees, and they are more difficult to return to their home countries.
Judd and other union members often point out that the Border Patrol apprehended more people in 2021 than it has in decades—about 1.7 million. For this, they blame the current administration. But nearly 30 percent of those apprehensions were repeat crossers due to Title 42, as Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy counsel with the American Immigration Council, explained last week during a congressional hearing.
There will undoubtedly be an uptick in migration arrivals after Title 42 ends. Typically, migration picks up at this time of year, and smugglers will no doubt take advantage of the end of Title 42 to portray it as a “now or never” moment to migrate.
But portraying this moment as one of “ mass chaos” and promoting white-supremacist beliefs, as Judd and other union leaders are doing, isn’t going to help border communities. Nor, for that matter, will it help rank-and-file agents. In a letter sent to Washington last week by the Texas Border Coalition, elected officials and business leaders from the border pleaded for political unity and a comprehensive border and immigration plan.
“Partisan fights that turn the border region into a political football sully our standing and harm our people,” the coalition wrote. “It is time our leaders put aside the partisan bickering.”
But it’s the Border Patrol union’s hyperpoliticization under Judd that has worsened the polarization and bickering. The union’s endless invective and misinformation only ensures that a bipartisan solution will be nearly impossible. The Biden administration is already instituting harsher measures at the border and many of its own border policy experts who hoped for a more humane system have left in frustration. For Judd and other union leaders, the measures will never be harsh enough. Meanwhile, the suffering will only continue for border residents, vulnerable asylum seekers, and economic migrants.
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