A last-minute amendment to the immigration reform bill, recently passed in the Senate, has received vehement opposition from Border Patrol officers. The amendment, tacked on by Sens. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) and Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) to garner conservative support in the Senate, increases spending on border security by $38 billion and adds nearly 20,000 agents to the Border Patrol, almost doubling it in size.
In its entirety, the immigration reform bill would increase spending on the U.S.-Mexico border by $46.3 billion in the first ten years. It would also legalize most of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States.
But opposition concern, mainly backed by a union representing 17,000 nonsupervisory Border Patrol officers, revolves largely around the increase in agents proposed by the bill, which would raise the number of agents from 21,394 to 40,000. Union representatives argued that such a surge in hiring would lead to rushed hiring procedures, cut corners, insufficient background checks, and lowered hiring standards. Much of the union’s arguments are based on the last Border Patrol hiring surge eight years ago, when a Congressional mandate backed by President George W. Bush doubled the number of Border Patrol Agents.
“The last time they hired any large number of Border Patrol agents…they were given a badge or a gun and put out in the field and then a red flag would come up by the time they finally did a background check,” said National Border Patrol Council spokesperson Shawn Moran. During the time following the last hiring surge, thousands of individuals with criminal backgrounds applied for Border Patrol, according to a study conducted by Andrew Becker of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Many of these applicants made it all the way through the hiring process before being stopped by a polygraph test—a test, however, that not all applicants (even those hired) were required to take. Between 2004 and 2012, nearly 2,000 arrests were made of Border Patrol officers.
“We’re not your ordinary union. We really do appreciate the intent of Senators Hoeven and Corker with the increase in manpower,” said Moran. “We just think that it can be done better and, frankly, cheaper.” Moran went on to suggest an alternative: that currently employed Border Patrol officers could be given the option to extend their workdays from eight to 10 hours. Though the hourly rate of the officers would increase, the agency would save money that would otherwise be spent on extensive hiring and training practices while minimizing the risk of repeating the sloppy hiring seen during the last surge.
“Don’t get me wrong: Could we use 20,000 more agents? Yes. That’d be great,” remarked Chris Cabrera, vice president of a chapter of the Border Patrol union based in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. “We’re sitting on a porous border. Twenty thousand is a great number, but I don’t see it as an achievable goal.”