Border Patrol Finds A Source Of Recruits In The Guard

December 14th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Border Patrol Finds A Source Of Recruits In The Guard

Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
December 14, 2006
Pg. 1

By Mike Madden, Republic Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - As the U.S. Border Patrol seeks thousands of new agents, authorities are finding recruits from a captive audience: the National Guard.
Guard members from around the United States have been heading to Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas for two-week rotations since President Bush deployed them to back up the Border Patrol last spring. The soldiers were intended to be a stopgap until the Border Patrol could add agents.
But some troops are applying to join the Border Patrol once their Guard rotations end. The current class at the agency's academy in Artesia, N.M., includes three trainees who served with the Guard, and officials say scores of other Guard members have put in applications for when they return to civilian life.
An exact count isn't available because recruiting among Guard members isn't a formal program. Neither the Pentagon nor the Border Patrol is tracking how many soldiers apply.
"I've seen a number of guardsmen, just in the course of conversation, look at an agent and say, 'Well, what's it take to become one of you guys?' because they're encouraged and inspired by the work," said Army National Guard Sgt. Ed Balaban, a spokesman for the Guard's Border Patrol support mission in Tucson. "We're all wearing the uniform for similar reasons."
For the Border Patrol, which aims to add 6,000 agents by 2008 for a total force of 18,000, recruiting from the Guard could be crucial. Interest has been high enough that recruiters have been asked to make presentations to soldiers stationed at the border in several sectors.
"That's the difficult part: not the number of applicants but getting the applicant that is qualified," said Senior Patrol Agent Maria Valencia, a national recruiter for the Border Patrol in Washington who served six years in the Army before joining.
Prime applicants
From Oct. 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, to Nov. 25, the Border Patrol hired 367 agents. Officials were unable to say how many have applied to the Border Patrol since it boosted recruitment efforts, but they said that on average, for every hire, they have 30 applicants.
Officials want to hire 2,500 this fiscal year, slightly more than the number they plan to have on the line by the end of the year, to account for senior agents retiring or trainees dropping out of the academy.
Valencia said people with military backgrounds are prime applicants. "We have that discipline that's required."
Many National Guard members who aren't full-time soldiers work in law enforcement when off-duty. Depending on their military specialties and length of service, they could start at a higher pay grade than other entry-level agents. Any Border Patrol agent who still has outstanding Guard obligations must serve when called up.
Critics say the Border Patrol must maintain high standards as it recruits at a higher pace, particularly following a scandal last year. Three veteran agents were convicted of involvement in smuggling after internal Department of Homeland Security investigations.
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union for about 11,000 rank-and-file agents, said he doesn't object to recruiting among the military or Guard but said putting fliers up haphazardly isn't helpful.
"Certainly, they're under the gun to bring people on board, but the country is not served well when you bring the wrong people on board," Bonner said.
The union wants authorities to pay agents better, as well. Government officials say Border Patrol salaries, which start at $35,000 to $40,000 per year, are competitive with other law enforcement agencies.
Activists concerned
Putting people with a military background on the border raises concern among activists who opposed the National Guard's deployment in the first place.
"Military (troops) are trained to shoot to kill, they're trained in war scenarios," said Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Border Action Network, based in Tucson, which has called for all Border Patrol agents to get more training in ethics and human rights to ensure they treat migrants fairly. "Immigration is an administrative issue. The issue is a lack of papers, paperwork. . . . From our vantage point, there's a huge disconnect there."
But Guard members who have moved into Border Patrol training say it's a natural fit.
"You get used to working with different kinds of individuals from all over the United States and different cultures, and you just learn how to deal with people's differences and work together and get past your differences," said Ernesto C. Gomez Jr., a Border Patrol agent trainee from Yuma. He served in the National Guard supporting the Border Patrol in Yuma before starting at the academy.
The military exempted him from Guard duties for the duration of his academy training, even though his unit from Yuma has orders to deploy soon. "It's the same thing (here)," Gomez said. "We have people coming in from all over the place."

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