Magazine article Insight on the News

Customs Toughens Up

Magazine article Insight on the News

Customs Toughens Up

Article excerpt

After a year of congressional pressure for a cleanup of graft and mismanagement along the Southwest border -- much of it prompted by Insight's long-running "Border War" series -- the U.S. Customs Service appears at last to be getting serious. Several major management changes have been introduced in the ports of entry in Arizona, including the "involuntary" early retirement of the Douglas port director, Frank Amarillas, who was a perennial target of internal-affairs probes that went nowhere.

The changes, which are not being advertised by service chiefs, come in the wake of redoubled Washington efforts to get a grip on drug smuggling along the United State's 2,000-mile-long frontier with Mexico. Last month, the administration announced it will hire an extra 1,000 agents to patrol the border as part of a multibillion-dollar campaign to crack down on narcotics trafficking and illegal immigration. Texas and Arizona will get most of the new agents.

Both of Arizona's main ports of entry, Douglas and Nogales, have gained reputations as being among the most corrupt and inefficient crossings along the entire stretch of the border. Under Amarillas' tenure, Douglas has featured as a constant problem. "Dysfunctional" was the most charitable description one Customs internal affairs, or IA, investigator could muster for a port that during the last four years has seen the successful prosecution of half a dozen U.S. law-enforcement officers for narco-related corruption (see "Border Agents in Douglas Have Waved It on Through," Jan. 20, 1907).

Following Insight's Douglas expose, Arizona Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Knauss conceded publicly that the port represented a "severe corruption problem." On what scale? "It isn't easy to tell," says a veteran customs IA investigator who was based in Arizona for several years. …

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