The U.S.-Mexico border is about 1,933 miles long and, to patrol that border, more than 18,000 agents are assigned to nine sectors.
When an immigration hot spot breaks out, as it has in South Texas, the agency’s response is as sluggish as the muddy Rio Grande that defines a long stretch of the border.
The Border Patrol, which is run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is a civilian force represented by a union and is somewhat hamstrung by contractual limits for deploying personnel.
As reported recently by Albuquerque Journal staff writer Lauren Villagran, Border Patrol agents in most cases have to volunteer to move for stints longer than a month. However, union spokesman Shawn Moran says agents can be called up for short assignments and some volunteer for longer deployments through a “mobile response team.”
Unlike the military, the Border Patrol cannot quickly call up large numbers of agents and send them to an active sector.
So, while the Rio Grande Valley sector in South Texas is overwhelmed, other sectors are relatively quiet.
In the 1990s, the San Diego sector and the El Paso sector, which covers New Mexico, were hot crossing areas. Arizona was busy during the 2000s.
Moran says Customs and Border Protection could do a better job of managing its resources. He suggests that, instead of sending agents temporarily to other sectors, the agency would save money by making more transfers permanent.
Well, that might work in some cases, but only until the next hot spot breaks out.
The agency is just not as nimble as it needs to be. Customs and Border Protection is a big bureaucracy further hamstrung by union work rules. And the task of unions is to make their members happy, not advance the mission of the employer, which in this case is stemming the tide of illegal immigration and contraband.
What is clear from the current crisis is that it’s time for the agency to develop more flexibility.
— Albuquerque Journal