More than 450 unfilled Border Patrol jobs in Imperial, San Diego counties

The Border Patrol has a hiring problem that’s particularly acute in southeastern California, according to a new Government Accountability Office report that raises questions about whether the agency can fulfill President Donald Trump’s executive order in January to add 5,000 agents to crack down on illegal immigration.

Under a 2011 congressional edict, the Border Patrol is supposed to have 21,370 agents. But the GAO report says that as of May, the agency had 19,500 – and its ranks have gotten smaller each year since 2013. That’s because on average, more than 900 agents leave a year with only a little more than 500 being hired.

Of the nine Border Patrol sectors along the U.S.-Mexico border, El Centro in Imperial County had the second-highest percentage of unfilled agent positions. Authorized for 1,120 agents, it has only 888 – 79 percent. Only the Big Bend sector in remote west Texas has a bigger shortfall, with 640 agents authorized but only 495 on the job, or 77 percent.

The San Diego sector is authorized to have 2,484 agents but has only 2,262 agents. The 9 percent shortfall is about the same as the average for the nine sectors.

Between El Centro and San Diego, the two California sectors are short 454 Border Patrol agents.

The GAO report attributed the hiring difficulties in general to two particular issues: competition with other law enforcement agencies for new hires and the frequency with which applicants failed lie-detector tests meant to discover if they have criminal histories. The tests were mandated by Congress in 2010 and have led to a 65 percent failure rate among applicants, roughly double what is seen with other police agencies.

In the El Centro and Red Rock sectors, the GAO cited a third factor, saying geographical remoteness make it difficult to attract and retain officers.

The GAO report fits into a larger picture of law-enforcement agencies struggling with hiring shortages in California and across the nation.

“Departments are struggling to find not only interested, but interested and qualified, candidates to join the force,” Jim Burch, vice president of the Police Foundation, told NBC News earlier this year. “With everything happening around policing from salary to criticism, the question many people are asking is ‘is it worth it?’”

Hiring standards may already be too low

But if the Border Patrol considers lowers hiring standards to speed up recruiting – a common tactic for employers with difficult-to-fill jobs – a new Cato Institute report suggests hiring standards are already too low.

The report, issued Nov. 2, cited Office of Personnel Management records showing far more problems with the performance of Border Patrol employees than in other federal law-enforcement agencies.

“From 2006 to 2016, Border Patrol agents were twice as likely to be terminated for disciplinary infractions or poor performance as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and 49 percent more likely than Customs and Border Protection officers who work in the Office of Field Operations,” the Cato study noted. “Border Patrol agents were 54 percent more likely than guards at the Bureau of Prisons to be terminated for disciplinary infractions or poor performance, 6 times as likely as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, 7.1 times as likely as Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and 12.9 times as likely as Secret Service agents.”

The CATO study suggested that the Border Patrol’s problems could be even worse than reported because of “disorganized and understaffed” internal affairs departments which have overlapping authority and a history of doing a poor job documenting misconduct. The study faulted the Bush administration officials who oversaw the transfer of the Border Patrol from the Immigration of Naturalization Service to the newly created Department of Homeland Security after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

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  1. Tobi12
    Tobi12 25 November, 2017, 02:23

    Sounds like the Border Patrol shares a lot of problems with TSA – and both were created during the hustle after 911 to create the DHS! TSA can’t catch any weapons while screening & Border Patrol can’t find enough officers to catch illegal border crossers. Problems sound a bit too similar! Perhaps after this amount of time the management must be changed! Sounds like intrinsic incompetence above the individual Border Patrol agents!

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year.

He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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