Union Boss Cites Own Doctor For Heat Scanner Use At Border

By Jennifer Doherty
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Law360 (June 16, 2020, 10:26 PM EDT) -- The head of the union representing U.S. Border Patrol agents is advocating for thermal scanners to detect fevers in migrants at the U.S. border based, in part, on advice from his personal physician, House members heard Tuesday.

Speaking to representatives during an oversight committee's hearing on health and safety measures for staff at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the coronavirus pandemic, Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said the scanners would be beneficial for border agents.

Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., expressed concern that the scanners are not recommended for medical use since they can pick up higher skin temperatures caused by physical exertion in warm climates.

When she questioned Judd on what would make them an effective screening measure, he replied: "One, my personal doctor."

"I've been to the doctor several times during the pandemic, and they've told me that these scanners work very well," Judd continued. "We've also done our own personal research. Again, I'm not saying that it's the be-all-end-all, but it's one of those indicators that we need to look at."

Judd's testimony came during a hearing held by the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Management, and Accountability as federal agencies prepare to re-up their operations following COVID-19 slowdowns and in the midst of a budget crisis.

The cameras, which Judd contended "can determine, at a safe distance, whether an individual is running a fever," were just one item on a list of "things we need to be doing now" included in his prepared opening statement for the hearing. Other requests on Judd's list included more detention capacity, continued in-field processing and COVID-19 testing for agents.

"We need to be [able] to identify when someone is showing certain indicators of the pandemic, of COVID-19, to ensure that it's not spread throughout the United States," Judd said. "So we need to look at all of the different things that we can possibly use, and that's just one tool that would help us look for indicators."

At other points during the hearing, Judd praised the government's goodwill toward the Border Patrol thus far, specifically citing his union's "strong" relationship with the DHS and "President Trump's quick action to initiate Title 42 authorities," which "has driven illegal immigration numbers to the lowest levels in my career."

While Judd has publicly applauded Trump's immigration policies, Barragán has been vocal in her criticism of the administration's approach to immigration.

"The record of the Trump administration and Border Patrol agents on protecting adults and children at the southern border is dismal," Barragán told Law360 after the hearing. "So, I'll need to hear more than the reassurance of Mr. Judd's personal doctor before we start implementing thermal scanners as a major screening tool at the border. Reports and articles have stated that these are ineffective, and even the manufacturers warn that thermal scanners are not intended for medical use."

Barragán also grilled Judd on what U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers were doing at the protests in recent weeks over deaths of black people at the hands of law enforcement.

"It certainly instills fear amongst immigrants who want to exercise their First Amendment rights," she said.

Judd, who had earlier proclaimed that he was "disgusted" and "mortified" by the actions of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd last month, responded that CBP agents were simply supporting fellow law enforcement officers.

"We're not the ones who decide when we're going to go in and help," he said. "What we do is when we receive a request for assistance from other law enforcement agencies, then we go in and assist them under their authority, so we're not there to arrest anyone for immigration violations. We're not the military, so we're not militarizing anything. We're assisting our local law enforcement partners when they ask for assistance."

The National Border Patrol Council did not respond to a request for comment.

--Additional reporting by Suzanne Monyak. Editing by Bruce Goldman.

Update: This story has been updated with comment from Barragán.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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