A new report from the Center for Immigration Studies concludes that a border wall is not the only thing missing from an effective border-security policy.
The Washington, D.C.-based think tank says the U.S. Border Patrol is in desperate need of more boots on the ground along the nearly 2,000 miles of border with Mexico. And that’s a need that can only be filled by forming a civilian auxiliary along the lines of the Coast Guard Auxiliary or the Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary of the Air Force.
President Trump has acknowledged the need for more manpower, calling for the hiring of 5,000 additional agents. But that is a costly endeavor that could take years to fulfill. As reported recently by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, the last time the U.S. Border Patrol went on a hiring binge, in 2006-2008, it dropped the ball on screening the applicants and a large number of drug dealers and other bad guys infiltrated the ranks.
Even if it is feasible to hire 5,000 new border agents in a short period of time, some say that by itself is still not enough to adequately patrol an out-of-control border, especially if one considers that the U.S. border with Canada, which is importing thousands of high-risk Syrian refugees, is expected to see an increase in criminal/terrorist activity in the years ahead.
But a civilian force might be one way to fill in the gaps, says the CIS report.
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Joseph Kolb, a fellow at the Center and author of the paper, writes that with Border Patrol staffing at the lowest level in seven years and one-third of agents devoted to non-patrol duties, a volunteer force could serve as a needed force multiplier at a lesser cost than hiring more officers. An auxiliary force might also reduce the involvement of militia-like groups that presently patrol the border without coordination with the Border Patrol.
In addition to the Coast Guard and Air Force auxiliaries, dozens of police departments have similar volunteer units. The Department of Homeland Security examined the issue more than a decade ago but did not act. The keys to making such an initiative successful would be extensive training of the volunteers and demonstration of progressively greater job proficiency.
Emphasis has been placed on the wall, but security ultimately will come down to boots on the ground as agents of the U.S. Border Patrol make the physical apprehensions of illegal border-crossers and contraband, according to the report.
The Trump administration immediately pledged 5,000 new agents, but the question remains whether that is still enough to fully secure the borders.
The U.S. Border Patrol now has 19,828 agents serving (down from a high of 21,444 in 2011), but not only has there been a steady decline in manpower, a startling number are not actually out patrolling the border but rather sitting at desks filing paperwork.
“Mathematically, the mission is daunting,” writes Kolb. “Of the 19,828 agents, only 17,026 are earmarked to the southwest border. Considering work shifts and the sheer magnitude of the geography agents need to cover, this is not as large a number as it may seem.”
According to Victor Manjarrez Jr., a former sector chief in Tucson and El Paso, as many as 18 percent of agents in each sector could be tasked with non-border duties.
“This now takes the 17,026 down to 13,961, which agents fear creates not only a security void, but an agent-safety issue where single agents can be in remote areas by themselves waiting for backup while attempting to apprehend and secure large groups of people,” Kolb writes.
Agents can be found in the garage repairing vehicles, welding and repairing the border fence, etc. — the non-duty stuff takes about 18 percent of the manpower, Manjarrez told the report’s author.
“Border Patrol agents who have gone through the 66-day academy in Artesia, New Mexico, at a cost of around $25,000 per cadet and who will be making more than $70,000 plus benefits after three years, should not be wasted performing tasks such as vehicle repair or apprehension transfers. This is not only a waste of money and valuable human resources; it compromises national security.
Feasibility of civilian border force
According to Manjarrez, the concept of a civilian border-security force has been discussed in the past, but never approved. In 2005 then-Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Robert Bonner told the Associated Press there was an effort to explore the feasibility of an auxiliary, but it failed to gain support from lawmakers and the border-agent union, the National Border Patrol Council. In 2007, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University published a comprehensive feasibility study on the concept.
“I believe the idea of an auxiliary unit would be very helpful in the right situations and the right training,” Manjarrez, told the author of the CIS report. “The idea has come up several times before, and I’m glad to hear that someone is thinking about it again.”
Among the duties auxiliary personnel can perform are transportation, booking and processing, hospital watch, electronic video and movement sensor monitoring, dispatch, and vehicle and fence maintenance, all of which currently take agents off of line patrol.
There is a general consensus in the National Border Patrol Council, which is supported by Manjarrez, that auxiliary staff should not be put in the field.
“The author disagrees with this position on a variety of levels. With the appropriate training and guidelines, auxiliary personnel can be an additional body in a patrol vehicle typically manned by only one agent. This second person can be an extra set of eyes and ears as well as assist when multiple apprehensions occur simultaneously rather than leaving one agent alone waiting for backup. This can enhance agent safety.
The establishment of a recognized Border Patrol auxiliary division may mitigate the presence of the numerous “volunteer” border watch/patrol organizations already patrolling the border, mostly in Arizona, California and Texas. One group in California went so far as to call itself the Border Patrol Auxiliary, which has no official status. These heavily armed militia-like organizations can make a volatile situation explosive, as has been seen in multiple incidents where they disobeyed orders by agents to drop their weapons or respond to commands. In 2015, a member of “Rusty’s Rangers” in south Texas was wounded by an agent after the militiaman refused to drop his weapon.
In a 2014 statement, CBP explicitly posited that it does not endorse or support any private group or organization from taking matters into their own hands as it could have “disastrous personal and public safety consequences.”