UTEP professor, Immigration Council question need for additional ICE and Border Patrol agents
By Steve Bittenbender
Editor, Government Security News
On the same day a federal judge in California put a temporary halt on President Trump’s plan to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, a panel of immigration experts took aim at another aspect of Trump’s immigration and border control plan.
The American Immigration Council held a teleconference Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Trump Administration’s plans to bolster the ranks of both Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol. The call came on the heels of a paper released by the Council from a University of Texas-El Paso professor who questioned the need for those additional agents.
The most noted aspects of Trump’s immigration plan have been the proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico, the focus on limiting immigration from predominately Muslim nations and the emphasis on deporting undocumented aliens. However, the panel said Trump’s plan for more agents deserves greater scrutiny, especially since the number of undocumented aliens have dropped.
A Pew Research Center report – also released on Tuesday – indicated there were about 11.3 million such individuals living in the United States last year. That’s nearly a million fewer than were here 10 years ago.
In his paper and in the teleconference, Josiah McC. Heyman also expressed concerns about the risk of corruption within CBP and ICE as it expands its ranks. According to a New York Times report, CBP officers and Customs agents have taken more than $11 million in bribes from drug cartels and other criminals.
“These two branches of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are poorly prepared to recruit, train, and supervise new personnel,” said Heyman, a professor of anthropology at UTEP and the director of the Center for Interamerican and Border Studies. “While the Border Patrol experienced some improvements in the aftermath of its last expansion, most recommendations for reform remain unimplemented.”
In a memo to DHS officials two months ago, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said CBP did not have enough officers “to effectively detect, track, and apprehend all aliens illegally entering the United States.” While he called for the hiring to begin immediately, Kelly called on CBP to maintain consistency in training and standards when bringing the new agents on board.
In fiscal year 2016, CBP had 19,828 agents and ICE had more than 20,000 employees. Trump’s order calls for an additional 5,000 CBP agents and 10,000 more ICE staffers.
Joshua Breisblatt, an analyst for the AIC, noted CBP, before Trump’s order, already authorized to have more than 21,300 agents on staff. He added that Congress is currently considering Trump’s request for $300 million in funding to hire CBP and ICE agents this fiscal year, with more money requested for 2018.
“These requests have come despite lower apprehension numbers at the border over the past few months,” Breisblatt said.
Heyman said the additional staffing would increase the DHS budget by more than $3.14 billion the administration gets its 15,000 new agents. In his report, he believes that money could be better spent elsewhere within DHS.
For example, he noted that U.S. immigration courts are currently understaffed. There are 300 judges now, about 75 short of what’s currently budgeted. These judges oversee more than a half-million cases and the average time for a case to be resolved is more than 670 days. In order to alleviate the backlog within six years, Heyman said the government would need more than 500 judges.
Heyman also noted that CBP’s Office of Field Operations is not slated to receive any additional agents, even though the office is responsible for inspecting trade and travel at ports of entry. He noted an internal DHS study showing that one additional OFO agent would boost by the national economy by millions because the agent would help reduce the amount of time needed to inspect cargo containers.
While additional OFO agents also run the same risk of corruption as their colleagues along the border, “attention to ports of entry represents an important policy alternative to repeating the misplaced pattern of Border Patrol and border wall expansion,” Heyman said.