- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2018

Border Patrol agents say they can’t be much clearer: They want more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a survey conducted by the National Border Patrol Council, the agents’ union, they overwhelmingly supported adding a “wall system” in strategic locations, embracing President Trump’s argument that it will boost their ability to nab or deter would-be illegal immigrants.

Agents also said they need the government to change the “catch and release” policy. They often have to immediately release illegal border crossers they arrest, giving them the chance to disappear into the shadows with the 11 million other illegal immigrants in the U.S.

The findings, shared with The Washington Times, appear to undercut the argument of congressional Democrats, who released a report last month concluding that line agents didn’t support Mr. Trump’s plans for a wall. The report was based on an internal tool used by Homeland Security to evaluate security gaps.

The NBPC’s survey, of more than 600 agents in two of the Border Patrol’s busiest sectors, found just the opposite: A stunning 89 percent of line agents say a “wall system in strategic locations is necessary to securing the border.” Just 7 percent disagreed.

Brandon Judd, president of the NBPC, said that finding directly contradicts a March 22 report by Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which looked at data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection — the Homeland Security Agency that oversees the Border Patrol — and concluded that agents didn’t want more fencing.

DOCUMENT: Hard line on the border

“There are many pieces to the border security puzzle and — contrary to the minority staff report — the survey clearly shows frontline Border Patrol Agents identify a wall system in strategic locations as a vital and necessary piece of the border security puzzle,” said Mr. Judd, who commissioned the survey.

Agents were even more adamant that the catch-and-release policy wasn’t working.

A staggering 95 percent of agents surveyed said the government’s inability to hold illegal immigrants while they await deportation serves as a magnet for still more illegal border crossers.

Under catch-and-release, many caught at the border are processed, given court dates and then released into the communities in the hope that they show up for legal proceedings about deportation. Many of them never show up and instead disappear into the shadows.

The White House held a press briefing Monday calling for changes to curtail catch-and-release. One official said courts have imposed a 20-day limit on holding families that have jumped the border — a virtual guarantee that those illegal immigrants will be released.

“We can’t possibly get a removal order within three weeks, which means we have to release [them] within 20 days,” the official said.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump says border wall needed to stop ‘caravans’ of illegal immigrants

Another official said migrants have learned to game the asylum system by claiming fears of being sent back to their home countries. More than 80 percent of those seeking asylum are granted initial admission to the U.S., giving them a foothold in the country while they await court dates that can be delayed for five years.

The Trump administration demanded that those legal changes, on top of $25 billion more in funding for border security and the wall, be included in this year’s attempt to strike a deal on the DACA program for illegal immigrant Dreamers. Democrats balked at those demands, and none of the major immigration pieces ended up in the final bill.

Of the 1,950-mile border with Mexico, 654 miles are currently protected by a barrier. Mr. Trump’s wall-building plans would bring that total to about 1,000 miles.

Politicizing the wall

All sides used to agree on the efficacy of border fencing, dating back to the bipartisan 2006 Secure Fence Act, which called for a total of 700 miles of the border to be covered by two tiers of fencing. A 2007 law watered down those requirements, leaving the 654 miles of current coverage — about 300 miles of vehicle barriers and 354 miles of pedestrian fencing.

Even as late as 2013, the Senate compromise immigration bill called for completing the 700 miles of fencing envisioned in the 2006 law. Every Democrat in the Senate at the time voted for that bill.

But Mr. Trump’s ascendancy has politicized the wall, and some of those former supporters are now backing away from fencing.

Some Democrats argue that illegal immigration across the border has been reduced so much in recent years that the border is essentially secure, at least from an illegal migration standpoint. Others argue that whatever problems remain, they won’t be solved by the type of wall Mr. Trump envisions.

Last month, Democratic staffers on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a report saying Border Patrol agents and their supervisors supported more technology and personnel, but didn’t want a wall, in their border security requests.

The staffers used information from CBP’s “Capability Gap Analysis Process,” which surveys the needs of each Border Patrol station to see what additional tools they want in order to meet their mission of stopping people, drugs and other contraband from crossing illegally.

Of 902 capability gaps identified last year, just 37 referenced a need for fencing or a wall, the Democratic report said.

“Border Patrol agents have rarely recommended building a wall to address the most commonly identified vulnerabilities — or ‘capability gaps’ — along the southwest border,” the Democratic report concluded.

The NBPC’s Mr. Judd said the capability gap process surveys few, if any, of the agents who are patrolling. He had the union undertake its own survey in order to answer definitively the question of what agents want, and he said the results showed they clearly back more border walls.

“What I found was that the minority staff report was nothing more than ‘political crap,’” he said in a statement to The Times. “I’m truly disgusted knowing that the taxpayers had to foot the bill for something that amounted to nothing more than a political hit piece against the president of the United States.”

He called for an investigation into how the Democratic report was written.

Laura Epstein, a spokeswoman for the Homeland security committee Democrats, said their conclusions were based on the data they were given.

“The committee minority staff looked at data provided to the committee by Customs and Border Protection about priorities for strengthening border security,” she said.

She added: “As we have been in the past, we’re eager to continue to work with CBP, NBPC and all stakeholders to ensure that the men and women patrolling the border and working every day to keep our country safe get the resources and support they need to be successful.”

CBP didn’t respond in time for this article, but acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald D. Vitiello said at a press conference last week that agents do want a wall to be added as part of an overall border strategy.

“Our agents and officers have decades of experience, and they know their operational needs,” Mr. Vitiello said.

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

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