The Border Patrol says it’s looking to create a new category of job that would take babysitting duties out of the hands of agents and give them over to support personnel, freeing the agents to return to the front lines patrolling the border.
The agency says it’ll be 2020 before they are ready to ramp up, and they have no sense for how many people they’ll need, what the training will look like or whether they’ll be able to find enough applicants.
But they revealed the outlines of the plan Tuesday, saying they wanted to be transparent about where they’re hoping to go, if they get approval and money.
It’s the latest in a series of moves intended to try to find something that can change the dynamics of the ongoing border surge.
“Border Patrol Processing Coordinators will take on processing, transportation, and custody responsibilities, which will free up agents for critical law enforcement operations,” said Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost.
A Customs and Border Protection official who briefed reporters said they don’t know costs or many of the logistics, but he said the need was undeniable.
Thanks to overwhelming numbers of people, the demographics of the surge and new health checks put in place after sick migrants died in Border Patrol custody late last year, agents now spend 40% of their duty time off the border babysitting migrants. That includes transporting them, providing care and feeding, and taking some to the hospital for checkups. Since they are in Border Patrol custody, an agent must be with them.
“It’s bringing in individuals to take part of those administrative duties over, allowing the Border Patrol agent to get back in the field,” an official said.
Details, though, are sketchy.
Officials couldn’t say whether they’re talking about a few positions or thousands of positions borderwide, nor could they say what the hiring process would look like or if it will require a polygraph test.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said there used to be a similar position back when the Border Patrol was part of the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service.
At the time it was called a detention officer, and those in the job wore a uniform but were not sworn law enforcement officers. He said he’s been pushing to re-create that role.
“This is a fantastic idea, this is something we have been pushing now for, heavens, six or seven years,” Mr. Judd said. “In typical government fashion, they wait until a Category 5 hurricane breaks out and we’re now behind the eight ball again.”
He said it would likely take 1,000 to 1,500 people to have enough personnel to relieve agents of those duties.
The agency already is struggling to keep agents on the job and is well below the number of agents mandated by Congress.
That problem is exacerbated by the new demands.
When the flow of migrants entering the U.S. illegally was mostly adults from Mexico, usually men, they could be quickly returned to Mexico within hours.
But now, with families and unaccompanied juveniles from Central America accounting for the majority of the flow, they cannot simply be sent back across the border. Instead, they be must housed and fed by border authorities, often for days, before they are released into the country pending some future legal action, or, in the case of children, sent to the federal Health Department for holding and eventual placement.
Agents in El Paso, Texas, reported arresting more than 2,200 immigrants living in the U.S. illegally in their sector alone on Memorial Day, including one group of over 200 people and another “enormous group” of 430.
Almost all of them were families and unaccompanied children, and the vast majority were arrested in a stretch of several miles of border inside El Paso.
The people coming now are also more vulnerable and sicker, meaning they require more thorough and time-consuming medical checks. Agents are averaging about 70 trips to the hospital a day, borderwide.
The dangers of taking agents out of the field to feed, care for and transport the migrants has been brought into sharper focus in recent months.
Agents say they know they’re been sent to care for large groups of migrants, while nearby smugglers use the distraction to send drugs over.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan testified to Congress last week that hard drugs are increasingly being smuggled over between the ports of entry.
He recounted one seizure of 750 pounds of cocaine in southern Texas earlier this year.
“They felt confident enough to bring that many drugs across,” he said.
Mr. McAleenan said they only sniffed out the load because one agent, figuring the distractions were just too juicy for the smugglers, staked out a particular section of the border for a week.
“He knew that they were using families to divert resources. So, he laid in that stretch of brush and caught that load. I called him and talk to him about how dedicated he was, to sit there for a shift and a half seven days in a row before he finally got that load,” the acting secretary said.