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DALLAS NEWS: Trump's plan for Border Patrol, ICE hiring surges face timing, security obstacles

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Washington, July 6, 2017 | comments
Days after taking office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order with ambitious hiring goals to beef up the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a key element of his get-tough pledges on border security.

The goals were high: 10,000 new agents for ICE to fight cross-border crime and immigration, and 5,000 for the Border Patrol to secure national borders.

But plans for staffing increases also were reminiscent of previous hiring surges that have led to serious problems. During the last major recruitment push under President George W. Bush, the agencies on the front lines against drug smuggling and human trafficking saw major spikes in corruption by agents.

Trump’s first budget asks Congress for $300 million to hire 1,000 more ICE and 500 more Border Patrol agents in 2018. That’s modest compared to his earlier, more ambitious vision for the agencies. But even these smaller targets won’t be easy to meet, said agency veterans.

From 2006 to 2009, the Border Patrol’s ranks jumped from 12,000 to 20,000. ICE nearly doubled in size in 18 months.

“It was a massive, massive administrative challenge,” said W. Ralph Basham, who  was commissioner of Customs and Border Protection — the Border Patrol’s parent agency — at the time. “To get one Border Patrol agent, it was something in the hundreds of applications that you had to have.”

Both agencies were later plagued by allegations of corruption, something critics blamed on failures of vetting during the hiring spree. Thirty-three people died in encounters with Border Patrol and customs agents between 2010 and 2015. Only one agent faced criminal charges resulting from those incidents.

“Lowering and changing standards can lead to integrity issues in the force several years later, and that did happen in the 2000s,” said Doris Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Clinton administration and now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

“At an organization that large, size alone brings with it additional complexities in terms of supervision, standards and discipline.”

Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE, said that even though apprehensions at the border have dropped substantially, the new agents are needed to beef up enforcement.

“The [apprehension] numbers on our South border, that’s a good thing. We should celebrate that. But interior enforcement — we haven’t really been able to concentrate on interior enforcement for the last several years because we’ve been so busy on the southern border,” Homan said during a June 28 visit to the White House.

Asked how quickly the 10,000 agents could be hired, Homan focused instead on the need for the expansion.

“You compare that to the reports of 11 or 12 million people in this country illegally, that’s not an outrageous number,” he said.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, who has co-sponsored legislation making it easier for Border Patrol to hire former military personnel, agreed that the increased manpower is needed for security and accountability.

“At a minimum we should be having two-man teams, but ... we’re stretched thin,” he said. His district includes the most miles of the southern border, and he cited an 18-mile stretch in Del Rio covered by only one agent.

“We have to think about how we should play defense along the entire border,” he said.

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