The U.S. Border Patrol is losing agents faster than it can hire them, according to a new audit released Wednesday that said competition with other federal law enforcement and the difficulty of passing a polygraph test have sapped the agency of nearly 2,000 agents it’s supposed to have.
More than 900 agents leave each year on average but the Border Patrol only hires an average of 523 a year, the Government Accountability Office said in a broad survey of staffing and deployment challenges at the key border law enforcement agency.
The law requires the agency to have a minimum of 21,370 agents on board, but it had just 19,500 agents as of May.
That’s an even bigger problem when stacked up against President Trump’s call for hiring 5,000 more agents, to reach a workforce of 26,370.
Managers blamed everything from remote working conditions to competition with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the interior immigration agency that’s also staffing up, for difficulty in filling out ranks.
Problems span the southwest border, with eastern California and western Texas suffering particular shortages.
The new GAO analysis also looked at how the agents who are on board are deployed, amid a long-running dispute within the agency over the use of highway checkpoints.
Checkpoint backers say they serve as a critical chokepoint, helping snare drugs and, occasionally, illegal immigrants traveling on the roads. Opponents say they are easily circumvented, and also test the limits of constitutional rights, given that the Border Patrol claims authority to operate up to 100 miles away from the border.
Last year, one in five Border Patrol apprehensions of illegal immigrants, and more than three-fourths of seizures of drugs and other contraband, came more than five miles from the border.
“Illegal crossers and drug smugglers may sometimes travel near or through communities and private property in areas that are not along the immediate the border, prior to being apprehended by Border Patrol,” the GAO said.
Agents often-times end up trailing smugglers and illegal immigrants across the private property, adding to the damage, the audit said, including a photo of a mangled driveway gate attributed to illegal immigrants in Texas.
Still, the audit found local law enforcement officials are generally happy with the Border Patrol’s presence, with one Arizona official saying they would be overwhelmed without agents there to help out.