Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border have skyrocketed over the past two years. Despite spending more on immigration enforcement than all five main federal law enforcement agencies combined from FY 2006-2020, our Southwest Border remains a pressing issue.
Border Patrol suffers from staffing and retention problems, obsolete and sometimes dangerous technology, and poor management of migration fluxes. Thankfully, there is common-sense legislation to address these issues.
First, Congress needs to provide Border Patrol with the tools to incentivize the hiring and retention of qualified officers. After peaking at 21,444 in FY 2011, the number of officers (despite an uptick of a few hundred in the late 2010s) dropped to 19,536 in FY 2021. Enticing and retaining personnel is difficult because of the remote work locations, negative public perception of Border Patrol officers, the perceived danger, and because those with higher degrees (which increasingly more agents possess) can find more lucrative work in the private sector, or, even within ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit.
In May, Customs and Border Protection incentivized certain officers who recently quit to return by promising pay raises and waiving retraining requirements. And it is currently offering a $5,000 signing bonus for all new officers, and $10,000 for those willing to work in remote locations.
These are steps in the right direction. Passing the Border Patrol Enhancement Act (BPEA) and the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act of 2021 are two more correct steps. Both bills would increase the number of Border Patrol officers, with the BPEA also creates a mechanism for determining the precise number of officers to be hired. In addition, the BPEA promotes officer retention by increasing pay for all Border Patrol positions, including a mandatory 14% increase on the minimum pay rate for GS-12 agents.
Second, Congress needs to pass legislation that improves Border Patrol’s ability to effectively monitor the border. A recent DHS OIG report found sensors not connected to cameras that unnecessarily diverted officers from their duties, technology out of commission for over a year due to obsolete parts, and some simply unsafe structures. Meanwhile, invasive carrizo cane and salt cedar obstruct the views of officers near the Rio Grande, and provide cover to smugglers and illegal border crossers.
Improved sensor technology has already allowed Border Patrol officers to better distinguish illicit from non-human traffic. Consequently, officers took 104 fewer investigative trips to remote locations in FY 2021 as opposed to FY 2019. In other words, technology prevented 104 unnecessary 30–45-minute round trips, freeing officers to focus on their primary mission of securing our borders.
The Border Visibility and Security Act would require DHS to continue modernizing its technology. Also, by mandating the erection of cost-effective physical barriers where practicable, the construction of a 700-mile-long border highway, and the eradication of obstructive flora, this bill would facilitate Border Patrol’s ability to locate and apprehend illegal border crossers.
Third, Congress needs to ensure that CBP is better prepared for future migration surges by mandating the formation of reserve resources and interagency plans. Another recent DHS OIG report found that CBP diverted 40-60% of its agents from border security operations so they could process migrant families during a surge event in 2019.
Better management of migration fluxes would lessen the strain on our overburdened system and allow Border Patrol agents to focus on actually protecting our borders. Passage of the Border Response Resilience Act would mandate the creation of a reserve fund for migration fluxes, metrics for determining when such a flux is occurring, and a plan for requesting and disbursing interagency personnel to address it. Meanwhile the aforementioned Border Patrol Enhancement Act would create a permanent 2,500 member Border Patrol reserve force just for surge events.
Finally, Congress can ease pressure on the border by increasing legal migration pathways. That’s because the prevalence of legal migration opportunities decreases incentives to migrate illegally. For example, when the U.S. eased the hiring of Mexican H-2 seasonal visa workers in the mid-2000s, illegal immigration from Mexico plummeted by 91%. Similarly, passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would decrease illegal immigration by extending H-2A eligibility to a larger population of agricultural workers. This, in turn, would make it easier for CBP officers to focus solely on their mission of securing our borders.
Passing these bills would not secure the border overnight. And while there are some border security issues that these bills don’t address, they are certainly steps in the right direction. With an upcoming Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate, most of these bills could garner enough bipartisan support to actually pass. But for this to occur, we must first pressure Congress to stop relying on the executive and judiciary to dictate immigration policy, and come together to protect our borders.
Jordan Fischetti is an immigration policy fellow at Americans for Prosperity.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.