Crisis in PR

In today’s society, it isn’t only businesses in the private sector that need to cover their butts; governments and those in authority are also expected to speak for their actions (Ashcroft, 1997).

The officials of the U.S. Customs and Border Control, often more colloquially known as “Border Patrol,” are no strangers to public relations. Their actions in patrolling the international borders of America are often controversial and met with a variety of positive and negative feedback.

This past week, a border patrol agent shot dead a man who was chucking rocks at officers. In a statement released by Border Patrol, the offending agent was excused because “[he] feared for his life and… two people in the country illegally were arrested (The Associated Press, 2014).” The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined charging the agent with a crime.

Last week, the agency came under attack for firing a female agent for having a child. In a statement, they proclaimed, “Customs and Border Protection is dedicated to the health and well-being of all of its employees and is constantly looking for programs and initiatives that positively impact their work environment (Fox News Latino, 2014).”

Back in January, images began circulating of agents teaching children to shoot guns at humanlike targets, creating an uproar in human rights groups, particularly immigrant advocate groups who lobby for more humane treatment of illegal border-crossers. What was Border Patrol’s official response to the outrage?

“This specific activity was meant to create awareness about law enforcement tools used to address some violent situations without the use of deadly force… The U.S. Border Patrol takes pride in participating in community events to help build awareness about our activities and operations (Davis, 2014).”

The biggest issue with Border Patrol’s handling of crisis is their lack of transparency and sincerity. Understandably, when certain controversies are still part of an ongoing investigation, they are limited to what they can say in an official statement; however, when the victims say or do or hear or see one thing to the publics, and then a faceless government authority like Border Patrol says something stale or unrelated in response, a gap of trust is created between the publics and the agency. This does not help the agency’s case.

If Border Patrol wants to win back the hearts and minds of the American people, they need to get their act together. According to Ashcroft, “effective management of information is vital to the operations of most organizations (1997).” If fired mother and ex-agent Sophia Cruz says she was discriminated against (Fox News Latino, 2014), and has the testimony to prove so, Border Patrol should take this into consideration before and after it reaches the media, and craft a human response that they didn’t simply regurgitate from the “Border Patrol Crisis Handbook.”


Man shot dead after throwing large rocks at Border Patrol agent near San Diego. (February 19, 2014). The Associated Press. Retrieved from

Ashcroft, L.S. (1997). Crisis management – public relations. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 12.5, 325-332. Retrieved from

Davis, K. (January 31, 2014). Border Patrol pics anger activists. The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved from

Fired Border Patrol agent claims agency fired her for trying to be a good mom. (February 13, 2014). Fox News Latino. Retrieved from