National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Border Patrol’s Record Staffing Levels: Diminishing Returns at Taxpayer Expense

May 04, 2011 - Posted by Adam Salazar

Border Fence


If you have ever watched Border Wars, a National Geographic channel reality television program that follows the daily operations of U.S. Border Patrol and other law enforcement along the Southwest border, you might think that each and every day is filled with excitement. Raiding drug houses, chasing migrants through treacherous terrain, and staking out drug cartels are just a few of the activities portrayed by the television program. However, the reality for many border patrol officers is far less glamorous and more closely resembles the daily operations of a mall parking lot guard – sitting, pacing and spending countless hours anticipating an adrenaline-filled pursuit that never happens.

According to the Los Angeles Times, some Border Patrol officers are literally falling asleep on the job from boredom. Because immigrant apprehensions along the Southwest border have dropped from 1.6 million in 2000 to 448,000 in 2010, many agents are spending hours on end sitting in patrol vehicles and waiting for illegal crossings that just aren’t happening – at least not nearly as frequently as a decade ago. This reality clashes with Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) recruitment hype, including the use of phrases such as “This is where the action is!” on its Web site when describing the duties of a Border Patrol officer.

As boring as the job may be now, Congress seems to think the Border Patrol desperately needs more staff.  Just last August, Congress funded an extra 1,000 Border Patrol agents to help apprehend “illegal crossers or smugglers and cartel operatives”. This initiative—which included additional infrastructure and equipment—came during a time of record-low crossings at a cost to the American taxpayer of $175.9 million dollars.  In September of last year, an additional 1,200 National Guardsmen were deployed to the Southwest border to help Border Patrol carry out their operations.  The Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution compromise reached this April (H.R. 1473) sets a floor of no fewer than 21,370 active Border Patrol agents—regardless of whether they are needed

According to information presented in an April 7 Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, it can take several months for a novice Border Patrol agent to be trained and integrated into the ranks.  Many of the 1,000 new officers required by last summer’s bill have yet to be deployed, leaving many to wonder, what will be left for them to do?

At a starting salary of $38,619, not including the “up to 25% additional pay for the performance of extra duty time” or benefits, the 1,000 new hires required by last summer’s emergency spending bill will cost taxpayers a minimum of $38,619,000—now being incorporated into a Border Patrol budget for salaries of $3.5 billion, not counting training, infrastructure, management, and other expenses. Adding in those overhead costs contributes another $1.35 billion, and including security and inspection operations at the ports of entry themselves brings CBP’s total budget to over $11 billion! 

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has been reassuring Americans that our borders are more secure now than at any time in our past.  When will our political leaders engage in honest discussion about effective and affordable border spending?  After all, personnel numbers along the U.S. borders are at a record high while apprehensions are at a historic low.  More spending for boots on the ground at the border would be a metaphorical bridge to nowhere.

In a political climate where fiscal cuts are being sung with approbation on Capitol Hill, more politicians should be asking, at a minimum, when is enough enough?  The American public can only hope that Congress will recognize that more enforcement agents at the border will lead to even more boredom.  During a time when most taxpayers are trying to figure out how to pay for their rent, gas and groceries, they shouldn’t have to pay for the Border Patrol’s beauty sleep.

Image by Flickr user fredcamino.


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