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“Outrageous assertions” is how Mr. Bonner described comments by the Border Patrol leadership that the change in premium pay policies would not have a major impact on border operations or the effectiveness of the agent work force, and that the changes were required to ensure there were not further staffing reductions taken in the agent work force that could have a negative impact on border enforcement capabilities.

“It is ironic that this is happening at the same time that an additional 1,200 National Guard troops are being sent to the border to support the Border Patrol’s operations,” he said. “It won’t take smugglers long to figure out the gaps in coverage created by these reductions and exploit them to the fullest.”

Lloyd M. Easterling, acting director of media relations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which includes the Border Patrol, did not respond to questions concerning the overtime cap e-mailed to him over a two-week period.

In his directive, Chief Vitiello called the decision an effort to remain in compliance with congressional mandates and to address the fiscal realities of a tightened budget.

“While $35,000 may sound like a lot of money, it is easy to see how a large number of employees earn close to that amount every year, especially the more senior ones,” Mr. Bonner said. “It is important to note that waivers are available, but this administration is choosing not to exercise such authority in order to save money.”

Mr. Bonner said the National Border Patrol Council will be “working aggressively with members of Congress” to review the “potentially hazardous practices implemented by [the Border Patrol leadership] and the sectors in order to comply with this unilaterally implemented, artificial overtime cap.”

Several rank-and-file agents called the overtime pay an “equalizer,” noting that Border Patrol agents start at $36,600 a year, compared with at the FBI at $53,700 and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration at $49,700, according to each agency’s respective website.

Annually, the Border Patrol makes more arrests and seizes more drugs that any other federal law enforcement agency.