Border Patrol filling its ranks
By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times
August 10, 2007
The man who oversees the U.S. Border Patrol says the agency will meet President Bush's hiring goal of 6,000 new agents by the end of 2008, despite concerns by law-enforcement officials that the goal is unreachable.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham said that while increasing the agency”s manpower by 50 percent has been a major challenge, an aggressive recruiting drive has been successful and major revisions in training have streamlined the process while maintaining its quality.
Mr. Basham said the agency is “on track” to meet the goal helped, in part, by a training regime that includes a revamped schedule, a reduction in training days and a modernized Spanish-language program.
“In restructuring the programs and being smarter on how we reach our goals, we have made sure the training the agents receive is not diminished,” he said. “I am completely satisfied we now have a better delivery system and we will get the job done.”
But Kent Lundgren, coordinator of the 800-member National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, said the massive recruiting goal and quality training are not compatible.
“It can”t be done and still turn out functional, effective Border Patrol agents,” Mr. Lundgren said. “It may be possible to run trainees in one door and out the other. But train them well? No.”
In May 2006, Mr. Bush called for the 6,000 new agents, to be assigned along the Mexican border the largest expansion since the agency was established in 1924. In the interim, Mr. Bush ordered 6,000 National Guard troops to the Southwest as part of Operation Jump Start.
At the time, Mr. Bush said that the troops were being deployed to give the Border Patrol time to recruit, hire, train and assign 6,000 new agents and that the initial commitment would continue for a year, after which the number would be drawn down to 3,000.
A White House fact sheet issued along with the president”s announcement confirms that the initial commitment of 6,000 Guard members would last for a year and would be reduced “as new Border Patrol agents are added and new technologies come online.” It makes no mention of a drawdown to 3,000 troops.
In June, the Government Accountability Office said the Border Patrol will have to hire 9,100 recruits to produce a net increase of 6,000 agents, once personnel attrition had been accounted for.
Mr. Lundgren, former Border Patrol assistant chief, is among several current and former immigration-enforcement officers who think a lack of adequate academy training and field supervision could lead to the deployment of agents in critical border areas who “overreact as they face threats for which they are not mentally prepared or trained.”
The association”s membership includes four Border Patrol chiefs, 16 sector chiefs and dozens of supervisors, all of whom questioned the wisdom and feasibility of adding 6,000 agents in just two years, Mr. Lundgren said.
Meanwhile, the decision to pull back on the Guard troops has concerned some state and federal officials, who suggested that it was “ill-timed” and “premature,” and others who questioned whether it lived up to Mr. Bush”s promise to keep Guard troops on the border until the Border Patrol met its recruitment deadline.
In a letter last month, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, asked Mr. Bush to keep the Guard troops in place until an adequate number of Border Patrol agents were trained and assigned.
“As a result of the additional resources that have been deployed along the border, we have seen a significant reduction in the number of undocumented immigrants crossing the border,” Mr. Bingaman wrote. “However, I am concerned that if we prematurely reduce the number of Guard personnel, it will be difficult to maintain recent achievements.
“Although we are moving in the right direction, I do not believe that there are enough Border Patrol agents on the ground in New Mexico yet to justify a reduction of National Guard personnel by over 50 percent,” he wrote.
Chris Simcox, president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which brought nationwide attention to the problem of illegal aliens during civilian border vigils in April 2005, called for the Bush administration to reconsider its withdrawal of Guard troops.
He said their withdrawal would “exacerbate a worsening situation” of border intrusions and violence by alien and drug smugglers and “sends the wrong message to international drug dealers, criminals and terrorists with designs on America.”
“The voters made their priorities clear to Washington earlier this summer secure the borders, enforce the laws, in that order,” he said. “Now it”s time for Washington to get with the program and to keep the troops at the border.”
Col. Mark Allen, spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, said that although Guard members were called to assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building roads, and providing training, “people have misunderstood what we were going to do and for how long.”
“We are right on schedule,” Col. Allen said. “We met the goal of putting 6,000 Guard members on the line with great difficulty, but it happened and we are excited about what we did.”
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel noted that since Operation Jump Start began, the Border Patrol has added 2,300 agents.
He said, “We are on track to meet our goal of doubling the number of Border Patrol agents . . . bringing the total number to 18,000.”