After suicides, lawmakers call for mental health resources for border agents

As Republicans plan to aggressively challenge President Biden’s border and immigration policies in the House next year, a Republican from a border district draws attention to an alarming number of suicides among the ranks of officers customs and border protection.

Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers plan this week to introduce the TAPS Act to direct resources to Border Patrol agents — modeled on a past effort at the Pentagon to address issues mental health in the military.

“There are a lot of things that should unite us,” Gonzales said at a press conference on Wednesday. “The fact that we have 14 officers who committed suicide [this year] is a problem… and it is a problem that this body must solve.”

PICTURED: Representative Tony Gonzales speaks during a press conference on rising U.S. Border Patrol suicide rates, Dec. 7, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Representative Tony Gonzales speaks during a press conference on rising U.S. Border Patrol suicide rates, Dec. 7, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Mariam Zuhaib/AP

The 14 recorded suicides are the highest recorded by the agency in 13 years – since 2009. The agency reported eight suicides in 2020 and 11 suicides in 2021.

Gonzales, who represents Uvalde, also spoke about the mental health needs of officers responding to the school shooting.

“What they were exposed to 100% impacts you,” he said.

“Until we eliminate law enforcement who come forward to talk about mental health issues, they won’t,” said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing officers. basic.

Under the current rules, Judd said, an officer who approaches supervisors about mental health issues can be stigmatized and risk losing their pay.

Democrats in attendance recognized the challenge the next Congress will have in advancing immigration and border security legislation, given the GOP House and a Democratic-controlled Senate.

Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., said “the best thing we can do for border security is comprehensive immigration reform.”

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said Democrats and Republicans “recognize that our immigration system is totally flawed and not working for anyone.”

“The people running the southern border bear the brunt of our failed policies,” she said. “We are ready to work with anyone right or left to address this crisis.”

Gonzales signaled that this new effort could be its own bipartisan push, ahead of any major border security plans put forward by Republicans in the majority next year. Democrats will still control the Senate with 51 seats and will need at least 60 votes to push legislation forward.

A CBP spokesperson said in a statement to ABC News that the agency is “facilitating a culture that de-stigmatizes suicide and empowers employees to safely seek help,” and is “devoting increasing resources to support “workforce mental health and wellbeing.” .”

“In addition to offering new resources to the field and generating social media and other communications campaigns, CBP has increased the number of clinicians on site and is hiring more than a dozen operational psychologists. Together, these licensed professionals implement an evidence-based suicide prevention and intervention program, while addressing the precursors to suicide, including substance abuse, relationship issues, financial difficulties and work stress during times of hardship. ‘scope and complexity of the mission,’ the spokesperson said.

ABC’s Lauren Peller and Quinn Owen contributed to this report.

If you are experiencing suicidal, addiction, or other mental health crises, please call or text the new three-digit code at 9-8-8. You will reach a qualified crisis counselor free of charge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to or call the current toll-free number 800-273-8255 [TALK].

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