Border Patrol Chief: Illegal Migration Surge Could Happen Again

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Border apprehensions are down significantly in the early months of the Trump Administration, but the head of the U.S. Border Patrol says his agency must remain vigilant against a potential surge in illegal immigration from the south.

Chief Ronald Vitiello told The Wall Street Journal that a plan to bring on 5,000 new Border Patrol agents is still needed despite the short-term reduction in illicit border crossing. Citing the wave of unaccompanied children in 2014 and the continued trafficking of migrants from the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, Vitiello warned that a similar flood “could happen to us again.” (RELATED: Pew Report: HALF Of All Federal Arrests Are For Immigration-Related Crimes)

“I’ve seen the ebbs and flows of traffic. And it’s always been crippling to us, because people talk about arrests like that’s the only thing that happens,” Vitiello told TheWSJ. “But those arrests are generated by criminal cartels, who send commodities and people to the border and bad things into the United States. That scenario isn’t going to change.”

Vitiello, appointed as chief in January, leads the Border Patrol at at time when it is under pressure to rapidly boost staffing while making good on President Donald Trump’s promise to stop the flow of people and contraband crossing the U.S.-Mexico Border. A “substantial amount” of new physical barriers would help the agency carry out that task, he said, referring to the administration’s proposed border wall. (RELATED: Border Patrol President Criticizes Paul Ryan Over Border Wall Funding [VIDEO])

The Border Patrol is currently about 8 percent short of its statutorily mandated force of 21,370 agents, but Trump has requested $61.1 million in supplemental funding to cover the staffing shortfall in fiscal year 2017. The Department of Homeland Security plans to ask for $100 million to hire 500 Border Patrol agents in FY2018, according to an internal department assessment. (RELATED: Homeland Security Drafts Plan To Ramp Up Deportation Force)

DHS is also considering changes to pre-employment screening of Border Patrol candidates, including expanding the use of polygraph waivers and reducing the number of physical fitness tests administered to trainees. Critics are concerned that relaxing the hiring standards will lead to corruption and disciplinary problems down the road.

Vitiello disagrees with that notion that changes to the polygraph program will lead to a reduction in the quality of new hires. The waivers will be given to candidates who have previously passed federal polygraph exams or who have gone through certain kinds of background investigations, he claims.

“Prior law-enforcement officers, officers in the military who have a high security clearance who have to pass a rigid background exam to hold on to that clearance, those are the kind of things that the commissioner’s memo asks for discussion and relief on,” Vitiello told TheWSJ. “And I think they’re appropriate.”

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