It was the trash that first drew Roger Barnett’s attention.
Piled a foot-deep on some trails, his 22,000-acre Cross Rail Ranch near Douglas, Ariz., had become a major route for illegal immigrants headed north. The ranch sits in what law enforcement authorities called the “avenue of choice” for people trying to sneak into the U.S. There were so many moving through so often, he said it looked like a “slow motion invasion.”
“Literally, I felt like the guy with his finger in the dike, and I just didn’t think I could hold back the flood,” he said.
Mr. Barnett began rounding up illegal immigrants in 1998 after they started to vandalize his property — destroying water pumps, killing calves, vandalizing fences and gates, stealing trucks and breaking into his house. Some of his cattle died from ingesting the plastic bottles left behind.
“We’re still overrun, but not like it used to be,” Mr. Barnett told The Washington Times. “But it will get that way again, and rather quickly, as they pull U.S. Border Patrol agents off the line. I hate to see them go.”
Mr. Barnett, like a growing number of border residents and Border Patrol agents, is fearful that sequestration will result in a security setback in the government’s claim — made just last week in testimony by Border Patrol Chief Michael J. Fisher — that the border is “more secure than ever before.”
They said efforts to secure the border that took more than a decade and cost millions of taxpayer dollars could suffer a serious setback in the government’s bid to block the entry of illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and terrorists to the U.S.
“I don’t know who thought this was a good idea,” said one agent assigned to the Border Patrol’s busy Tucson, Ariz., sector. “There’s no doubt that alien and drug smuggling will increase once the smugglers see what’s going on. And don’t doubt for a second they aren’t watching and waiting to take advantage of a drop in manpower along the border.”
As part of sequestration, work furlough notices have been sent to thousands of U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel, including Border Patrol agents, because of required budget cuts. The agents would be mandated to have a furlough day each pay period resulting in a cumulative loss of 5,000 agents in the field. Beginning in mid-April, the agents each will lose 14 workdays through September.
On March 2, the Border Patrol’s normal 10-hour work shifts were ordered cut to eight hours. The cuts were necessary, CBP officials said, to account for $754 million in mandated spending reductions for the agency as a result of the failure of President Obama and Congress to reach an agreement on the budget to prevent sequestration.
‘Calculated, willful neglect’
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican who serves on both the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees, has expressed “outrage” over Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano’s response to sequestration — including the overtime cuts and the furlough notices to Border Patrol agents, which he said could leave “portions of our borders unmanned for hours at a time.”
In a letter this month, he asked Ms. Napolitano to explain why the department is targeting CBP law enforcement personnel instead of nonsecurity personnel for furloughs. Mr. Cornyn, who is ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security, said the furloughs “call into question the department’s commitment to its core missions and raise serious concerns about the judgment of DHS leadership.”
Mr. Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general, said Homeland Security’s ongoing effort to identify $3.1 billion in cuts for fiscal 2013, a 5.1 percent reduction of total discretionary spending, would result in a reduction of more than 5,000 Border Patrol agents. He said border security and the detention of those who violate U.S. laws are at the core of Homeland Security’s mission.
“When the secretary of Homeland Security decides to pull thousands of Border Patrol agents from their posts instead of making already identified, common-sense administrative cuts, there can only be one motive: using fear to make a political point,” he said. “Her homework’s been done for her; it’s time for Secretary Napolitano to target real excess in her department and trim her budget without putting our national security at risk.”