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N4T Investigators: Border patrol agents concerned over dangerous - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Border patrol agents concerned over dangerous duty

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TUCSON -

Agents from the Tucson and Three Points stations are now required to take turns working five-day shifts at the San Miguel camp. Located about two hours southwest of Tucson, the camp sits near the U.S.-Mexico border on the lands of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Agents say the new mandate is unnecessary.

"They're saying is that they built this installation so now that they're expected to use it whether we need it or not."

While on their five-day shift agents cannot leave the camp, not even to go home. That is creating problems for their families.

"Now they're making us stay over there for a whole week and leaving the kids and wife," an agent said. "They don't understand you need to get daycare for the week, you know?"

Stress on their families is not the only concern for these agents, they are also worried about their health.

"The thing is that the water down there has arsenic."

Fliers were posted around the camp warning agents that arsenic levels in the camp's drinking water were above normal health standards. Consuming high levels of arsenic can have serious long-term health effects including skin problems and cancer. The water was tested last October, but the warning to agents wasn't issued until May. 

"They put some filtration system to lower the levels, but that's only in the kitchen, everybody is still showering with the regular water."

President of the local border patrol union, Art Del Cueto, said he understands the agents' concerns and has been working towards a solution.

"They've provided other means for the agents to have water out there," Del Cueto said. "Our feelings as a union is if there is arsenic in the water obviously you can't cook, don't drink it, don't brush your teeth, but I think who wants to take a shower that potentially has arsenic that is a big concern for us." 

The border patrol union is pushing to shut down camps similar to the one in San Miguel, but Del Cueto could not go into specifics. 

"The reasons why I think some are needed or others aren't is strictly on an operational standpoint that I've spoke to the agency about and I can't really disclose that."

Del Cueto said he has received several complaints from agents and will continue to push for change, but these things take time.

"It's something we've really been pushing for years," Del Cueto said. "I know the agents hate being mandated, I've been mandated to go out to these camps before. It's not easy. Yes it is part of the job, but I think that the agents that are out there should be properly compensated when they are out there." 

The border patrol agency declined our request for an interview but did issue the following statement saying quote: 

"Drinking water at most FOBs is tested every 30 to 90 days. If testing results return showing water contamination exceeds EPA safe drinking water limits, the affected FOB is shut down until mitigation strategies are implemented and subsequent water testing shows that it is safe.  

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call 520-955-4444.

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