U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner is stepping down after four tumultuous years as head of a key anti-terrorism agency. “I moved back to Washington on Sept. 10, 2001, and I’ve been going a mile a minute ever since the morning of 9/11,” Bonner, 63, told the Los Angels Times. “I believe I have accomplished a lot here, but that’s for others to judge. I do need a change.” He is considering a return to private law practice in Los Angeles. A former federal judge, prosecutor, and Drug Enforcement Administration chief, Bonner took over an agency focused on financial crimes and smuggling and changed to a mission of preventing terrorists and their weapons from entering the country. The Customs Service, then part of the Treasury Department, doubled to 42,000 employees as it took over the Border Patrol, immigration inspection, and agricultural inspection to become U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the new Homeland Security Department. “I think he’s had one of the hardest jobs in government trying to blend those workforces together,” said government expert Paul Light of New York University. “The last four years is an eternity given the job he’s been in. I kind of admire him for his durability under extreme pressure.”
Bonner’s departure will leave Homeland Security with three crucial vacancies. Immigration, Customs Enforcement and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be without permanent directors. Bonner created two programs that aim to determine the contents of cargo shipments before they leave their home ports for the United States. Bonner said much progress had been made: “We are better than we’ve ever been in terms of preventing terrorist operatives or weapons from entering the United States.” Still, a report out yesterday from the Pew Hispanic Center found that the number of illegal immigrants has increased and now exceeds the influx of legal immigrants.