- REUTERS/Carlos Barria
- US Border Patrol is facing an officer shortage, and suggests it may not be able to hire the additional 15,000 agents President Donald Trump has requested.
- The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also say that they don’t even know how they would use the officers.
- These agencies continue to battle internal corruption and a lack of resources.
Border patrol agencies have reported difficulties implementing President Donald Trump’s plan to beef up security with thousands of additional agents along the US-Mexico border.
US Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement cite “significant challenges in identifying, recruiting, hiring, and fielding the number of law enforcement officers” that Trump wants to hire, according to a recent Department of Homeland Security report.
Both CBP and ICE are DHS federal law enforcement agencies.
The agencies’ biggest problem may be that they simply don’t know what to do with the 15,000 additional agents Trump wants to bring on board. The DHS report says that neither CBP nor ICE have explained “the operational need or deployment strategies” for these officers.
In his first week as president, Trump signed two executive orders calling on CBP and ICE to hire an additional 5,000 and 10,000 agents, respectively. But the request appears to overwhelm agencies, which have, historically, struggled to properly man the border.
Although border patrol agencies were required to maintain a minimum of 21,370 agents from 2011 to 2016, a government accountability study published this month found that the actual number employed was closer to about 19,500. At one point, the agencies were losing more agents than they were hiring.
CBP is doing everything it can to make the hiring process more efficient, Border Patrol Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitelli said on Fox Business on Wednesday.
“We need to have a system that brings the right people in because the job is important. We hold the public’s trust. We have to make sure the people we bring are the right one,” Vitelli said.
But a lack of qualified applicants, low pay for officers, undesirable deployment locations, and competition with local law enforcement agencies make it hard for the government to hire and retain officers.
Should border agents be the priority?
- REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Some experts question whether the agents are even needed.
“Congress is going to be looking at this very carefully and looking for justification for this kind of money to make sure they don’t write a check that is not necessary,” W. Ralph Basham, who headed CBP during the George W. Bush administration, told Reuters earlier this year. “The question will be do we need more agents or do we need money for technology and infrastructure.”
Critics like Basham argue that money and resources should be used to streamline border patrol operations to improve efficiency and stamp out interagency corruption. Simply boosting the number of patrol agents might sound like an improvement in security, they say, but it doesn’t always solve systemic operating issues that are holding agencies back.
The recent DHS report, for example, offers recommendations for other areas of improvement that the government can address, including unifying fragmented DHS offices and adapting to shifting environments and evolving demands.
“The current environment of relatively weak internal controls affects all aspects of the Department’s mission,” the report said. “From border protection to immigration enforcement and from protection against terrorist attacks and natural disasters to cybersecurity.”