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A new Arizona law requiring police to question the immigration status of people they come into contact with hasn’t slowed policymakers from proposing additional measures in recent weeks that could lead to yet more major dramatic changes on the border.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) introduced a bill May 11 that would direct the homeland security secretary to hire 3,500 new border patrol agents by next year. “Expanding the border patrol will keep Arizonans safe in a dangerous time and offer new, well-paying jobs in an important field,” she said in a statement. “It is great for public safety and great for our economy.”
While H.R. 5256 has no co-sponsors and so could disappear in committee, it’s worth noting that sudden hiring surges with tight deadlines may not be so great for the border patrol itself. The Bush Administration embarked on a massive recruitment drive beginning in 2006 that led the government to hire thousands of new agents – an increase of more than 50 percent over a two-and-a-half year period.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimated last year that each new hire runs taxpayers somewhere around $160,000 each, a price tag that includes background checks, fitness evaluations, night-vision goggles, mobile radios, uniforms, salaries and more. That means Kirkpatrick’s plan could cost the nation an estimated $558 million, if Elevated Risk is doing the math correctly.
Then there's the issue of integrity.
Our own Andrew Becker here at CIR noted in a March story for the Washington Post that corruption has become such a problem at CBP, an internal affairs division there is locked in a turf battle with the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general over who should get to lead the hundreds of investigations underway.
The internal affairs office alone, Becker wrote, was involved in approximately 100 corruption inquiries by the end of last year with cases ranging from agents improperly searching law enforcement databases to the increasingly common bribery of border authorities by drug traffickers. The IG, for its part, opened over 80 corruption cases last year in states situated along the southwest boundary, the most in half-a-decade. There were more than 230 corruption probes nationally under the IG’s purview by last year, and the FBI has about 110 border-related cases.
According to the story:
The United States has spent billions of dollars in recent years to bolster border enforcement, including a doubling of the number of border patrol agents. Officials say the crackdown has spurred drug and human-smuggling gangs to redouble efforts to recruit agents. More than 100 CBP employees have been arrested, indicted and convicted of corruption-related crimes since October 2004. … CBP has added more than 200 internal affairs agents since 2006. The FBI in the past year has expanded the number of task forces focused on uncovering border corruption from six to 14 and hopes to create around 20 nationwide.
While working on another story this month, we interviewed a Texas rancher who’s lived near the border for 76 years. The man, Dob Cunningham, also happens to be a retired immigration officer and allowed the federal government to place a tower on his property with surveillance cameras attached as part of its ongoing technological security enhancements on the border.
But in Cunningham’s view, no costly solutions will work unless CBP improves its process for selecting new agents. He described for us one case in which a young agent from Texas was accused of giving two men caught with 600 pounds of marijuana the location of remote electronic sensors used to alert officials when illegal border crossers are detected. A jury found the agent guilty of conspiracy last year.
“The border patrol is gonna have to start by hiring better people,” Cunningham told us. “They’ve hired a lot of misfits – anyone who could make a shadow.”
Other recent legislation, meanwhile, includes a proposal by Republican Sen. John McCain to deploy 3,000 National Guard troops to the border, as well as 3,000 new CBP agents hired over a five-year period specifically for two sectors in his home state of Arizona. McCain is facing a tough reelection challenge that has drawn the senator away from what were historically more moderate positions on the border. The law would also enlarge by $40 million annually a homeland security grant program known as Operation Stonegarden made available to local police for border security.
Recent election ad from John McCain
Another bill offered up by Republican Congressman Todd Tiahrt of Kansas would extend the 650 miles of physical fencing now on the U.S.-Mexico border to cover its entire 2,000 miles. It would also add a complete second layer of fencing, which now exists only in very limited areas. The nation’s border fence with Mexico has so far cost about $2.6 billion. McCain’s legislation seeks double and even triple-layer fencing in some areas of the Arizona border.