The United States Border Patrol cannot
seem to catch a break. Border Patrol agents have to guard both the US-Canadian
Border and the nearly 2,000-mile-long US-Mexico Border, the most frequently
crossed international border in the world. Traffic across the southern border
is both legal and illegal, and the illegal activity is not just men and women
trying to enter the US
to earn a better living, albeit by breaking the law. It is also violent drug
cartels, whose influence, corruption, and murders in border towns like Tijuana and Ciudad
Juarez has spiked recently. THE LOS ANGELES TIMES ran
an article in mid-February noting that tourism in Tijuana has decreased 90%
since 2005 as drug violence has soared. Late last week the police chief of
the Mexican City of Palomas showed up at a border entry point in New Mexico
asking for political asylum in the US to escape the drug violence in his town,
where four people recently were shot to death and his two officers had fled.
The Border Patrol is severely
understaffed to deal with the vast networks of the drug cartels, let alone to
staunch the flow of illegal immigrants and properly to man legal checkpoints.
President George W. Bush recognized this problem in 2006 and implemented a plan
to increase the number of Border Patrol agents from 12,000 to 18,000 by the end
of 2008. Six thousand new agents is a large number to recruit and train in the
span of two years. As should have been expected, the Border Patrol has had to
reduce its qualifications for the job in order to meet the new numbers.
The Border Patrol has made three
significant changes in order to meet the new requirements and put more boots on
the ground. It no longer requires a high school diploma or GED (the equivalent
of a high school diploma) for entrance. The only qualifications for the job
are that one be under 40, a US citizen, be able to learn Spanish, possess a driver’s
license, and pass through several background and medical checks. After
application, candidates have to take tests in law, firearms, Spanish, physical
training and driving, but the Border Patrol has lowered the score necessary to
pass from 85% to 70%. It also has condensed the standard 88 days of basic
training to 55 days.
All of this raises the question of
whether it was wise for President Bush to push for 6,000 more agents in such a
short time frame. By October 1, more than one-third of all Border Patrol
agents will have less than two years of experience. Do more agents mean we
will have better security at the border? Probably not. If the requirements
for who is allowed to serve as a Border Patrol agent and the length of their
training are drastically reduced, what we may soon have is a force with a
significant number of incompetent, inadequately-trained agents.
This is particularly galling in light of
the increased drug activity at the Mexican Border. Drug cartels are serious,
dangerous businesses, and the Federal Government has a responsibility to
properly train the agents it sends into the field. Instead, the Federal
Government is essentially telling new recruits to learn on the job; if they
cannot do so they are expendable.
What a disaster. There is no doubt we
need more Border Patrol agents. But we need more agents with proper
qualifications who can pass all their tests with at least an 85% score and who
spend at least three months training for their new role. Lowering standards so
drastically is not the answer to our problems on the Southern Border. I
don’t know about you, but I would much rather have agents who can shoot
with 85% accuracy than 70%.