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Border Patrol tightens screening for agents

The U.S. Border Patrol, which unknowingly hired an illegal alien after a background check by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management failed to identify him, has begun its own screening process for new agents.

Border Patrol spokesman Salvador Zamora said the agency, which hired a 28-year-old Mexican national in 2002 after the OPM had approved his application, was now screening potential agents through the same process used to verify U.S. citizenship.

"The information we obtained from OPM fell through the cracks, but all applicants now get a full screening," Mr. Zamora said. "We're not taking anyone's word on who they are or whether they are in the country legally."

The FBI had previously conducted background investigations, but the job was turned over to the OPM in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Oscar Antonio Ortiz was charged in August with using a fraudulent birth certificate to obtain a Border Patrol job.

Court records show that while Mr. Ortiz grew up in Mexico and attended high school in the state of Sonora, he served in the U.S. Navy, was honorably discharged, attended Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Calif., and applied for the Border Patrol while still in the Navy.

His numbered birth certificate stated he was born in Chicago, although federal authorities later discovered it belonged to a man born a month earlier than Mr. Ortiz.

He became the target of an undercover investigation earlier this year after he was heard on intercepted telephone conversations discussing smuggling of migrants into the United States through a border area near Tecate, Mexico, court records show.

Transcripts from the intercepted calls show that he smuggled several dozen persons into the country and had been paid fees ranging from $300 to $2,000 a person. He was accused of smuggling illegal aliens in his Border Patrol vehicle, according to court records.

Mr. Zamora also said that all 42,000 current employees at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, have since been re-screened by the agency through FBI background and criminal history records as well as a check of databases at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Mr. Zamora said one discrepancy was uncovered, which did not involve deception, and is still being investigated.

Mr. Ortiz was arrested in Escondido, Calif., by agents from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General and placed on administrative leave. He later resigned. Assisting in the arrest were Escondido police, the North County gang unit and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony J. Battaglia in San Diego ruled in August that Mr. Ortiz should remain in jail without bail to prevent him from fleeing to Mexico.

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