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#1 Posted : Thursday, March 23, 2006 12:47:36 PM(UTC)

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Customs officer takes her life after transfer denied

Woman requested a move to Laredo before her death there

The Brownsville Herald

March 19, 2006 - People who knew Dalila Muñoz Migliore might
al-ways question why the young Customs agent turned a gun on
herself in a Laredo hotel room on Jan. 16.

Desperate to join her husband in Laredo, where he was stationed
with the Border Patrol, Migliore sought a transfer from
Customs and Border Protection, where she worked as an agent.

Repeatedly denied a transfer to the Laredo office, Migliore
took her life.

She shot herself in the chest with her government-issued

Migliore turned 28 just the month before.

Family members declined to comment for this article, except to
say that they are trying to move past her death, which remains
under investigation. Migliore?s husband could not be reached
for comment.

Customs agent Charlie Atkinson worked with Migliore, a
Brownsville native who was stationed here for nearly three

She had been trying for quite some time to get a ?swap? ?
which is one officer trading places with another ? or a
transfer to Laredo to be with her husband, Atkinson said.

He is also the local president of the National Treasury
Employees Union, representing Customs and Border Protection

He says he tried to help Migliore secure a transfer or swap,
work-ing to process her requests in his role as a union
representative. She was thinking about quitting her job because
of her predicament in the weeks before her death, he said, and
calls the woman?s suicide the unfortunate outcome of a
situation she saw as unmanageable.

She told him that she and her husband had been separated while
in the military and believed she would not face the same issue
working in other areas of the government, particularly because
Laredo is a place agents are constantly trying to leave.

?It doesn?t cost anything to the government to swap,? he said.
?They said they couldn?t let her go because of staffing. It
makes no sense; that?s body-for-body. ... I could see the
stress in her, the heartache. It beared on her a lot (not) to
be in Laredo.?

This was the second suicide of a Customs agent trying to be
closer to their family in eight months, Atkinson said, but
could not provide documentation from the government office.

Atkinson calls Migliore?s death a classic example of the
agency?s refusal to help accommodate its employees? different
family situa-tions.

Customs officials would not comment for this article, citing
the pri-vacy of personnel issues.

Susan Ritter, chair of the Criminal Justice Department at the
Uni-versity of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost
College, be-lieves the transfer denial was not the only issue
Migliore faced.

Suicide victims usually also suffer from depression, Ritter
said, and the last rejection Migliore received could have been
?one of the final little rocks that brought the mountain down.?

?It takes a long time to tear a person down; this was probably
a long-term, ongoing process where eventually (Migliore) saw
no alterna-tive,? said Ritter, who was also a federal
corrections officer for nine years.

The Customs branch of Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
[???] was created under the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) in 2003. Since then, management has become less and less
concerned with its employees? personal welfare, local and
national officials with the National Treasury Employees Union

?There are a lot of issues in CBP that are very different than
they used to be,? said six-year NTEU national president Colleen

NTEU represents about 14,000 Customs officers nationwide, with
about 600 in the Rio Grande Valley, union officials said.

?Management has taken the position that they will make
unilateral decisions without any real opportunity for
employees to put in a re-quest,? Kelley said.

Transfers and swaps are big issues nationwide, she said, but
are particularly troublesome along the Southwest border.
Sometimes denials come without a response or a reason, Kelley

The whole issue had gotten worse since the creation of
Homeland Security: more denials, more problems and even just a
lack of any type of response.

?The morale of employees in CBP across the country is at an
all-time low from NTEU?s perspective,? she said.

Contractually, Customs officers are allowed transfers and swaps
with at least three years of experience. Migliore was about to
com-plete three years of service with Customs at the time of
her death, Atkinson said.

Requests for transfers and swaps go through different levels of
administration, NTEU officials said. The local Field Operations
office, in this case Laredo, and the Port Director,
Brownsville?s Margie Gu-tiérrez, would have had to approve
Migliore?s requests.

The Laredo Field Operations office?s only response to an
inquiry into Migliore?s case was ?U.S. Customs and Border
Protection does not publicly discuss its internal personnel

Gutiérrez did not return calls requesting comment as of press

Denials of transfer requests with no explanation denotes a lack
of respect on the part of management for Customs employees,
Kelley said. Some cases involve employees with less than the
required three years of work experience, but even employees
with more than three years face problems, Kelly explained.

?You would think from a human compassion standpoint, they
would do it (approve requests), so they have a workforce that
feels valued and respected,? she said.

Low morale and the feeling of not being respected by
management means bad news for law enforcement agencies, Ritter
said, and also for the people they are supposed to be

?The overall administration of government in this country
today is not open to warm and fuzzy,? Ritter said. ?It?s going
to have an ex-tremely detrimental effect. If we lose the good
people because they are all unhappy and go somewhere else, who
is left??

Unsatisfied, law enforcement officers are going to have issues
with their jobs that will affect the quality of their work, she

Combined with the large growth Homeland Security agencies
expe-rienced after Sept. 11 to fill thousands of newly created
jobs, the quality of officer might have decreased.

All of these issues makes for a more stressful environment in
a dys-functional organization, and officers are going to have
to find a way to make it work
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