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The New York Times has an interesting front-page story today on the increasing corruption seen in the ranks of the U.S. Border Patrol.

The Homeland Security Department inspector general’s office, which oversees anticorruption efforts, had 79 border corruption investigations underway in the 2007 fiscal year, the Times reported, more than double the 31 cases it was investigating in 2003.

The Times story says:

In one of the new corruption cases this month, at a border crossing east of San Diego, a customs officer allowed numerous cars with dozens of illegal immigrants and hundreds of pounds of drugs to pass through his inspection lane, investigators said.

The officer, Luis Alarid, 31, had worked at the crossing less than a year, and the loads included a vehicle driven by Mr. Alarid’s uncle, the authorities said. Mr. Alarid has pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to smuggle. Investigators found about $175,000 in cash in his house, according to court records.

In another recent case, Margarita Crispin, a customs inspector in El Paso, Tex., began helping drug smugglers just a few months after she was hired in 2003, according to prosecutors. She helped the smugglers for four years before she was arrested last year and sentenced in April to 20 years in prison and ordered to forfeit up to $5 million.

Although bad apples turn up in almost every law enforcement agency, the corruption cases expose a worrisome vulnerability for national and border security. The concern, several officials said, is that corrupt agents let people into the country whose intentions may be less innocent than finding work.

“If you can get a corrupt inspector, you have the keys to the kingdom,” said Andrew P. Black, an F.B.I. agent who supervises a multiagency task force focused on corruption on the San Diego border.

The story also examines the case of former border inspector Michael Gilliland, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his allowing smugglers to pass unchecked through the Otay Mesa border crossing. We wrote about that case in 2006.

ROB DAVIS

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