The Border Patrol can’t say how many of President Trump’s 5,000 new agents it will be able to hire this year or next, but suggested it will take as long as five years to get them in the door.
“We don’t try to hold ourselves to an arbitrary target,” one Customs and Border Protection official said in briefing reporters Wednesday. Another official said their “goal is to onboard as many agents as possible within the next four to five years.”
The briefing came as President Trump prepares to submit his budget outline to Congress, detailing an increase in Homeland Security Department funding designed to begin construction of his border wall and to pay for increases in Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
CBP officials said they would wait on Mr. Trump before talking cost, but said the goal of 5,000 agents is “supportable.”
They said the changing workload, with a shift from Mexicans, who are relatively easy to process, to mothers and children from Central America, who are much tougher to process, feeds into the demand for more agents.
And patrolling the new wall and monitoring technology Mr. Trump has called for will also take new agents.
“For all of those reasons it’s a target we’re charging at, what we think is sound,” an agency official said.
Analysts have questioned whether the agency can hire that many agents without sacrificing standards. In particular, three-quarters of applicants fail the polygraph test, weeding out a number of those interested in joining what is the federal government’s largest law enforcement agency. That failure rate is more than twice that of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s failure rate, according to a 2013 McClatchy report.
Most of those who fail the CBP polygraph wash out not because they lied but because they admit to some disqualifying information during the test, such as criminal history or prior drug use.
CBP officials said they will not compromise on their standards nor on the polygraph results, though they are looking for the ability to grandfather in military veterans who already hold high levels of clearance.
The agency is already struggling to meet its current staffing level. It is more than 1,700 agents short of its mandated minimum.
“The reality of the situation is we’ve never stopped hiring,” one official said. “Our goal is to onboard as many agents as possible within the next 4 to 5 years.”
CBP blamed poor “brand awareness,” saying everyone knows the FBI, but the Border Patrol is a tougher sell. The agency is trying to recruit women, and says it’s seen an uptick in applications, but the duty stations are often difficult on families.
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