They leave corruption, misconduct and a toxic culture in their wake.
By Melissa del Bosque
On a Saturday evening in late September, Deputy Chief Scott Luck gathered with family and friends in the crystal-chandeliered ballroom of the Trump National Golf Club, nestled along the shores of the Potomac River in Virginia, to celebrate his retirement after 33 years in the U.S. Border Patrol.
The party was adorned with a who’s who in Border Patrol leadership, past and present. There was the unmistakable figure of Luck’s boss, Chief Carla Provost, tall and broad with her trademark fringe of brown bangs, and her longtime friend Andrea Zortman, who helps oversee foreign operations for the agency. A full contingent of retired former chiefs-turned-consultants were on hand, too, including David Aguilar, 64, who’d headed the Border Patrol as well as its parent, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Michael Fisher, 55, who’d succeeded Aguilar as Border Patrol chief. Rowdy Adams, 59, another retired senior-level CBP official, also attended the celebration.
“I feel like we’re leaving a terrible legacy for those who follow. I feel like we’re leaving a terrible legacy for those who follow.”
The guests had kicked in $75 apiece to cover food and a gift for the send-off, but hovering over the party was a mix of weariness and defiance: It wasn’t just the end of Luck’s career, it was the end of an era at the agency — their era. And the widespread critiques currently pummeling the embattled patrol and its more than 19,600 agents would be, implicitly, their legacy.
Unbeknownst to most outsiders, almost all of the immigration honchos at Luck’s party that night were longtime colleagues who’d served as young agents in the remote border town of Douglas, Arizona, when the Border Patrol was just a small, backwater agency.
The “Douglas mafia”
The group, called “the Douglas mafia” by some agents, began climbing the ranks together after the 9/11 attacks as the Border Patrol nearly tripled in size and budget. They’d ridden two decades of escalating political polarization over immigration to the top of the agency. They brought with them an entrenched us-against-them defiance that they’d fostered in the Arizona desert, when, feeling maligned and misunderstood, they’d forged their own way.
For better or worse, they’d had a hand in shaping virtually every aspect of the agency’s leadership and culture.
But the feeling in the room that night, said some in attendance, was relief that many of them would not be around to lead it much longer. Provost, 50, who’d started as a naive 25-year-old from a rural Kansas police force, had been planning her exit from Washington for months. Sandi Goldhamer, 56, her longtime partner who’d also gotten her start in Douglas, was already at their new home in Texas. Goldhamer had retired quietly last spring as associate chief in charge of national policy after her role in the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which resulted in thousands of children being separated from their families with no plan to reunify them.
The two women, along with Zortman, 46, had risen to the top despite the agency’s infamous lack of female agents, the least of any federal law enforcement agency.
The group had overseen or witnessed crises in the past — including lawsuits over excessive use of force and revelations of corruption within the patrol’s own ranks. But the last three years, catalyzed by ever-harsher Trump administration policies, had thrust the insular agency into unprecedented turmoil. …