- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2013

They bill themselves as “the real border security experts,” but the National Border Patrol Council — the union representing U.S. Border Patrol agents — has been uniquely silent as Congress prepares to debate immigration.

Unions representing the other two branches of immigration officers, the interior enforcement agents and the adjudicators who will process illegal immigrants’ applications, have announced their opposition.

NBPC, though, has not taken a public stance, and internal email traffic viewed by The Washington Times suggests that’s because the agents fear a major pay reform is being used as a bargaining chip to keep them silent.

The union said it is still trying to work on the bill, and thinks by not taking a stand it is keeping itself in the negotiations.

“We’re working behind the scenes to correct problems that we’ve seen with the comprehensive immigration reform bill. We are working with legislators intimately involved in the immigration reform effort to correct these problems, because we realize there are parts of the bill that need to be fixed,” said Shawn Moran, at-large vice president for the NBPC.

Mr. Moran said the key issue they’re working on is the pay reform, which he said is critical to making sure there are enough agents to maintain border security.

The bill, which heads to the Senate for an early test vote Tuesday, has garnered broad support from civil rights and religious groups.

Also on board are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which wants the new business-friendly future immigration system, and the AFL-CIO, which wants to see illegal workers legalized to stop them from undercutting legal employees’ wages.

AFL-CIO’s support, though, puts the spotlight on its member unions on the front lines of immigration.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, which represents ICE agents and officers in charge of deportations, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, which represents the staffers who will end up judging legalization applications, have announced their opposition.

“Many in the media and even some members of Congress are attacking our union right now for publicly bringing forth law enforcement and public safety concerns regarding the [Senate] bill. None of them will deter us from publicly blowing the whistle on problems with this legislation,” said Chris Crane, president of the ICE Council.

“Lives are at risk if we don’t speak up. We are thankful to the USCIS union and the hundreds of sheriffs nationwide who have stepped up to assist us in these efforts.”

The NBPC’s silence contrasts with previous immigration debates. In 2007 the NBPC, under then-union President T.J. Bonner, was among the most vocal opponents of the bill.

And Edward Tuffly, who was president of NBPC Local 2544 in Tucson, said Sen. John Kyl or Arizona “sold out” agents by writing that 2007 bill.

Mr. Tuffly didn’t respond to an email Monday asking about his stance this year.

Mr. Crane, the president of the ICE union, said he wished the Border Patrol agents would join the fight.

“I’ve been hearing for months that the Border Patrol union is having their legitimate pay concerns held ransom for their silence on the Gang’s Bill. If that’s happening its wrong,” he said. “I wish they would come to us for help. We’ve got their backs if they need us.”

The pay dispute has been simmering for months, and agents say it represents a real threat to them.

Because of how it’s structured, the Border Patrol relies heavily on Administratively Unavoidable Overtime, and agents have come to count on it as part of their pay. But under budget pressures, Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, has pushed to reduce use of the overtime.

The national border patrol union says the cuts could cost a quarter of agents’ pay.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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