We can't hire enough Border Patrol agents to do the job at hand

Before we can get around to building a wall on the southern border we’re going to need to make do with handling border incursion the old fashioned way and that largely involves a lot of manpower and shoe leather. Unfortunately both are in short supply these days, as was revealed in a recent meeting where Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson sat down to speak with members of the Senate. It was first pointed out to Johnson that we’re seeing an influx of unaccompanied minors showing up at the borders in even greater numbers than the crisis of 2014, but it’s just not getting as much media play this year. (Government Executive)

Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., while praising CBP for progress since the 2014 influx at the Southern border of refugees from Latin America, warned that the recently heightened pace of arriving unaccompanied children is alarming enough to impact Johnson’s spending plan.

“Four months and we’re up to 23,000 already… 2014 was a crisis, right now I think we’re running ahead of 2014 levels” of a record 68,541 by 49 percent, Sen. Johnson said. “If we maintain this pace, we’ll have 77,000 in 2016. I think we’re possibly beyond crisis proportions here.”

So why can’t we deal with the problem more effectively if the budget for border enforcement was increased recently? It turns out that there are job opportunities aplenty on the border, but we simply can’t find the people to fill them.

In submitted testimony, the National Treasury Employees Union, while praising the administration’s proposed 5.2 percent budget hike and plan to add 2,000 CBP employees, warned that current “employees are forced to work overtime and asked to take assignments far from home because their agency is chronically understaffed and is struggling to accomplish its mission.” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said CBP Officers in particular are “demoralized by having to work 12-15 hour shifts for months and work far from home.”

Some of the reasons for the hiring backlog were outlined Tuesday afternoon at a separate Senate Appropriations Committee hearing by Kevin McAleenan, CBP’s deputy commissioner. He said efforts to reach the planned hiring rate were hampered by high attrition rates for current employees who receive better-paying and better-located offers from other agencies at a time when general unemployment is dropping.

I’ve heard the work on the border described as a thankless job in the past and this seems to reinforce that perception. It’s hard work with long hours and extended tours of duty away from your family. What wasn’t brought up during these hearings was the repeated complaints from Border Patrol about how their hands are frequently tied by White House policies which prevent them from fulfilling their mission. The other side of the coin is the somewhat ironic observation that a slightly improved national job market is leading to more hiring both inside and outside the government and some of our current Border Patrol agents are heading to where the grass is greener.

This is shaping up to be a fine example of how you can’t solve every problem simply by throwing money at it. Increasing the budget for border protection is a great start, but the other issues plaguing the agencies need to be addressed as well. In theory, as more people are hired the demands of excessive overtime and extended tours of duty should decrease. But making the job seem like it means something and allowing the agents to feel that the government actually has their backs would go a long way too. We need White House policy on stopping illegal immigration to match the money we pour into these efforts. If we can manage that, we might not be losing as many agents as we are today.


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David Strom 6:41 PM on January 26, 2023