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'Homeland Security USA' Episode #2

By Ed O'Keefe

Since posting last week's assessment of the pilot episode of "Homeland Security USA," The Eye heard from some Homeland Security officials urging him to watch the second episode, because the show would get better. (The Eye vows to watch each episode of at least the first season to provide his take on the show. Stay tuned!)

This week's episode was much more emotional, with a special focus on immigration. Producers once again focused on the Blaine, Wash. and San Ysidro, Calif. border crossings, where Customs and Border Protection officers dealt with various incidents, including mistaken identity, illegal immigrants smuggling children and a Cuban woman seeking political asylum.

An incident at Detroit's Windsor Tunnel border crossing demonstrated how CBP cooperates with local law enforcement agencies and occasionally deals with tough situations that involve longer hours and name calling.

In this case, CBP stopped a woman under the influence from driving crossing the border into the United States. Viewers learned that CBP does not have the authority to arrest anyone on such charges and have to contact local authorities. Detroit Police officers eventually arrived and arrested the woman, who was unhappy with CBP officers for keeping her at the border crossing until she was arrested. It was a tough night for one female CBP officer who despite the name calling knew she had done the right thing.

The show also profiled Officer Harmit Gill, a recent CBP recruit exempt from the agency's prohibition on facial hair, because he's a Sikh.

He dealt with a case of mistaken identity, admitting that roughly 95 percent of the people who cross the border are "good," requiring CBP to deal with the "bad" folks. Producers emphasized that Gill was the "face of America" at the border, just like any other officer officer.

The show also touched on the victims' perspective a bit this week, as Boston-area Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested an illegal immigrant with a criminal record for disregarding a deportation notice. The illegal immigrant, named Danny, had sole custody of his 6- and 8-year-old children and tearfully pleaded with officers to let him stay in the country.

“Bottom line is, there will be people from this agency looking out for you," said one agent, and Danny was eventually deported. (The show's producers failed to mention however that the Boston-area ICE officers once reported to Lorraine Henderson, who was arrested in December for hiring illegal immigrants to clean her Salem, Mass. home.)

Episode 2 ended with the story of a Yugoslavian CBP officer working at the Blaine, Wash. border crossing who had been granted political asylum.

“We came here as visitors. Used to live in Yugoslavia. We got stuck, like that movie in the airport with Tom Hanks, when he got stuck in the airport. A passport to a country that didn’t exist. … and we got political asylum in three months. ... We never left," the officer said.

He became a CBP officer to "repay" the United States for granting him asylum, according to the show. It was a job "he was born to do," he said, because "My grandfather on my father’s side was a customs officer in World War I. So I guess it’s in the genes.”

The officer and a colleague helped process the case of a Cuban woman seeking political asylum after escaping political prosecution.

“I came here in America, looking for protection. I’m honored … to give protection to somebody else," the officer said as the final credits rolled.

The second episode definitely included more emotion, demonstrating that DHS employees deal with much more than drug smuggling, suspicious packages and security checkpoints. Continued emphasis on the emotional aspect of the job may help build an audience and keep the show on the air, but as stated last week, it will take much more than a primetime television show to improve the overall image and perception of Homeland Security.

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 14, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
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