Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 22, 2013

Doubling the Border Patrol? Not a Smart Idea

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Immigration — by Christian Beckner on June 22, 2013

Immigration reform legislation has been debated for the last couple of weeks on the floor of the Senate, and late last week a compromise emerged – in the form of an amendment from Sen. Corker and Sen. Hoeven – that appears to have secured enough votes for the bill to survive a cloture vote in the coming week and then move to final passage.  This New York Times story provides a good overview of the state of play.

One of the key provisions in the amendment (which is technically being wrapped into a larger substitute amendment) is $30 billion in funding over the next decade to add 19,200 new Border Patrol agents, nearly doubling the size of the Border Patrol from its current staffing level of 21,370 agents.

This proposal is a terrible idea – one that would be wasteful of taxpayers’ money and is not based on sound operational or technical analysis as to what investments are really needed to improve border security.

Before discussing this in depth, let me be clear: I would like to see broad-based and balanced immigration reform legislation be enacted, and it is sensible for a component of that legislation to be focused on border security, as is the case with ‘Gang of 8’ base bill.  Many of the border provisions in the base legislation are reasonable, including proposed investments in technology and infrastructure (although strong oversight is needed on these, given the history of SBInet) and the proposal to increase the number of Customs and Border Protection Officers (CBPO’s, who are different from Border Patrol agents).

However, the proposal to double the number of Border Patrol agents is different, and is something that deserves careful scrutiny by people on all sides of this debate before moving forward.

I have three primary concerns about this provision:

First, adding “boots on the ground” may make for a good soundbite, but it’s a costly and inefficient way to improve border security.   CBP spends around $3.2 billion/year today on personnel costs for the Border Patrol – a figure that doesn’t include the cost to train and equip them.  This $3.2 billion is already a very large chunk of DHS’s budget – as a point of comparison, it’s about 3-4 times greater than what the Department spends overall each year in support of its cybersecurity mission.  A proposal to double the Border Patrol would increase that total to over $6 billion/year in current dollars – and this would be an annual investment for the long-term, because of the difficulties associated with reducing such a workforce once you’ve expanded it.

Second, this proposal is not based on any real analysis about operational needs on the border.  Has anyone assessed what are these additional 19,200 agents going to do, or where are they going to work, or what infrastructure is needed to support them?  Not that I’ve seen, and I doubt that any analysis along these lines has been done.  And if we’re going to be making technology and infrastructure investments (e.g. fixed towers, UAVs, better comms) using funds available elsewhere in the legislation to improve the operational efficiency of the current Border Patrol agents, then why it is logical that we would also need twice as many of them?  As it is, we are already at the point where in some parts of the country, we’re seeing the “diminishing marginal returns” in border security that Secretary Napolitano spoke of a few months ago, exemplified by media reports where Border Patrol agents are fighting constant boredom.   Given this, I think it’s very hard to justify this proposal on its operational merits.

Third, it would be unwise to be spending billions of dollars to double the size of the Border Patrol when many of the other parts of DHS (and other key security-focused agencies) are struggling under the weight of four years of flat and declining budgets, topped off in the last few months by the cuts of sequestration.  For example, the Coast Guard is cutting personnel and continues to be delayed in its acquisition of its next generation of maritime vessels due to budget constraints.  (And keep in mind that the Coast Guard’s maritime border security requirements in the Gulf of Mexico and southern California will likely increase as the southwest land border becomes more secure).  The FBI is expecting that it’s going to need to furlough agents next year because of sequestration.  Nearly every part of DHS has felt the impact of budget cuts by Congress in the last four years – in many cases trimming out needed fat, but now to the point where the cuts are having an operational impact.   But now, suddenly, the Senate is proposing to spend tens of billions of dollars to double the size of the Border Patrol without one iota of analysis.

Given these three factors, I would hope that members of Congress in both parties would rethink this fiscally and operationally unwise proposal, regardless of their position on the broader bill.   There are many better ways to accomplish the shared goal of improved border security.  Some of these are already integrated into the base bill, and others, such as increased resources to investigate overseas human trafficking and smuggling organizations, and increases to the intelligence offices at CBP and ICE, and increases to state and local law enforcement grants in border states, would cost much less but collectively deliver a greater overall benefit to border security.

The agents who currently serve in the Border Patrol are hard-working and patriotic, and deserve our support.  But doubling their ranks doesn’t make any sense, and would be a fiscally irresponsible and operationally uninformed decision by the Congress.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 23, 2013 @ 12:23 am

Thanks Christian for this informed and interesting post!

The real problem of immigration reform legislation is at the bottom political posturing and not real analysis. IMO, and could be wrong as always, Mexican legal and illegal immigration to the USA should be separated out from all other immigration issues. In fact Mexican immigration of all kinds to the USA is almost an internal USA/Mexican migration issue based on a complicated intersection of two Nation-states linked by history, economics. politics, demography, and almost any other factor you can imagine or speculate on. FDI from Mexico to the USA is one main link as many US dollars are recycled back to the USA as flight capital thereby destroying Mexican self-sufficiency.

One piece of history most Americans fail to understand is that the Mexican Revolution of 1917 was largely driven by oil politics and that in turn by exploitive American oilmen wishing to do the same to Mexico they did to the USA–specifically rape the commons for private interests and private gains.

How about at least $1B federal investment each year in providing bilingual training, centers for study of Mexican history and government, more formal exchange programs at the University level and more analysis of MSM and academics and grey literature of how the USA and Mexico are postively linked instead of focus on drugs, reasons for Mexican immigation tied to US economic policy, and other issues of joint concern.

Deny it all you want or can but in fact the USA and Mexico are really ONE country and the sooner both realize it the better.

Again IMO of course.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 23, 2013 @ 12:27 am

And by the way we [the USA] are willing to drown Haitians but not Cubans, and now the question may be are we willing to shoot down Mexicans trying to enter the USA illegally?

Comment by HGRATTAN

June 23, 2013 @ 7:14 am

Too many HLS sound bites and an ineffective policy.

Illegal immigrants come and continue to migrate to the U.S. for several reasons and mostly economic and a sense of freedom that exceeds many countries.

Ultimately, they will come. I would if I were them.
The question is how many is too many and are illegal aliens really hurting the U.S. or are they helping the U.S.? Hard to say in both the short and long term. Arguably, some illegal aliens are security threats and weeding out real threats (terrorist and criminals) is near impossible.

If the U.S. truly wanted to halt illegal immigration, the nation (federal, state, local, and tribal governments) would not facilitate illegal residency. Many states and local governments facilitate illegal alien residency: driving privileges (licenses), nonessential medical care, education, and social services.

We know that the border is porous and doubling the number of border patrol agents will only put a dent in the number of illegal aliens. Why bother if State and local governments facilitate immigration? The nation must decide if we want illegal aliens or not.

If not, do not feed, house, educate, provide them with nonessential medical care, or other.
If yes, then tear down the wall.

Is there a middle ground?

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 23, 2013 @ 8:00 am

When retired in October 1999 MASS IMMIGRATION PLANNING was housed in DoJ/INS. Now housed in DHS somewhere but not sure of status or where!

This should be a statutory assignment to DHS and an important one. Revolution in Cuba or Mexico or in Central and South America or warfare could drive massive immigration mostly illegal to the USA.

Wondering if anyone paying attention to this now that Jane Hull Lute has departed DHS!

Comment by Christopher Tingus

June 23, 2013 @ 8:31 am

…a complex issue w/few in this administration truly looking at solutions other than to recruit new voters, however it would really be nice to see the present administration enforce laws and revamp the immigration services as folks come here and then stay despite the specific duration of the visa applied for….there must be more stringent enforcement, however when this administration breaks the laws itself of this nation, we here on “Main Street USA” expect little and will do our best to utilize our precious vote to “entrust” those willing to serve the public, not their self-agenda…

– Open the White House Doors Now – Our Kids Deserve Better –

Christopher Tingus
Harwich (Cape Cod), Ma 02645

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 25, 2013 @ 1:57 am

Well Christian apparently the US Senate did not read your post and did in fact pass the amendment doubling the FTE of the Border Patrol!

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