- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An association of former U.S. Border Patrol agents that questioned the agency’s ability to meet President Bush’s deadline for recruiting, training and deploying 6,000 new agents by the end of 2008 has changed its mind.

“They are doing it, and they are doing it exceptionally well,” said Kent Lundgren, coordinator of the 800-member National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers. “There has been no degradation of training standards; to the contrary, they have improved substantially.

“Agents are trained to meet the demands of their duties far better than those of us of older generations could ever imagine,” he said. “Insofar as our previous comments have been aimed at the patrol’s ability to train that many officers well and get them to the field, we have been mistaken.”

The association had said Mr. Bush’s massive recruiting goal to better secure U.S. borders and quality training were not compatible. It said the agency could not produce functional, effective Border Patrol agents.

But after a Sept. 12 briefing at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, N.M., attended by Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar, Mr. Lundgren said a formal mentorship program is being instituted for new supervisors and managers, administrative tasks are being passed off to contracted organizations and the quality of new recruits has not declined.

Mr. Lundgren, a former Border Patrol assistant chief, also said the agency has received substantial funding, physical training is now a primary activity and much of the training at the academy is being done with computers.

In a lengthy report to the association, Mr. Lundgren said the Border Patrol has been told it will be expanded to 18,000 officers and probably more.

“That is not negotiable; it is a goal the Border Patrol must meet. Chief Aguilar and his staff can create plans for their training but cannot create a large base of experienced officers to provide field training and mentorship to all those new agents,” he said.

“When they hit the field, they will be largely on their own. There is no way around that, and it is not the fault of the chief of the Border Patrol — the forces creating that outcome are above his level. We still believe it is a dangerous situation for new officers and for the public they serve, and we will continue to say so.”

The academy is receiving and graduating two classes of about 50 trainees every week.

In May 2006, Mr. Bush called for the 6,000 new agents to be assigned along the Mexican border — the largest expansion since the agency was established in 1924.

Mr. Lundgren is among several current and former immigration-enforcement officers who said a lack of adequate academy training and field supervision could lead to the deployment of agents in critical border areas who “overreact as they face threats for which they are not mentally prepared or trained.”

“We are now convinced that the patrol can indeed train that many officers,” Mr. Lundgren said. “Overall, we say without hesitation that the Border Patrol we all knew is still alive and well — changed, to be sure, but as good as we ever knew it.”

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