Lawmakers promote bill to address border patrol suicides

Immigration

In this Thursday, May 2, 2019 file photo, Border Patrol agents hold a news conference prior to a media tour of a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary facility near the Donna International Bridge in Donna, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

(NewsNation) — Two Texas lawmakers came together across the aisle to promote legislation aimed at preventing suicides among border patrol agents.

The press conference began with a moment of silence for 14 border patrol agents who lost their lives to suicide. Three of those cases have been reported publicly, but 11 have remained private.

The lawmakers were there to promote legislation around mental health and border patrol agents. The legislation is known as Taking Action to Prevent Suicides, or the TAPS act, aimed at addressing the mental health impacts that come with the job.

Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales said he sponsored the bipartisan legislation to try to bring representatives together on a critical issue. The things border agents see on the job stay with them, Gonzales said. He recalled the one agent who responded to the Uvalde shooting and saw the aftermath of the tragedy.

“It reminds me of my time in the military, these warlike situations … They leave an everlasting impact on you,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar said the money attached to the legislation will come with specific goals, including fighting stigmas around mental health.

“Number one, develop a process to ensure that employees who utilize CBP behavioral health services are not adversely impacted solely because they self identified a need for behavior, health counseling and seek behavioral health assistance,” Cuellar said of the goals.

He noted law enforcement agents can be especially wary about seeking help because of the damage it could do to their careers.

There will also be funding to increase the number of mental health professionals serving agents, either through the federal government or local communities, and an educational component designed to educate agents about the importance of mental health starting early in their service.

National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd said changing the process is critical. The current process, he explained, leaves agents worried about losing pay and opportunities as well as the fear of being shamed in front of their peers.

“If a border patrol agent or a CBP officer right now comes to management and says that they have a mental health issue and they’ve seen a doctor, they’re going to immediately have their law enforcement authority revoked,” Judd said.

Cuellar and Gonzales were joined by other representatives from several states as they promoted the legislation.

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