Tags: border | patrol

Border Patrol Recruiting Ranks Swelling

Tuesday, 25 Nov 2008 05:57 PM

By Dave Eberhart

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The infamous fate of U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean – facing a decade in prison for shooting and wounding an illegal alien drug smuggler – hasn’t slackened the rush of recruitment to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP).

The agency that primarily patrols the borders of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas has brought aboard a record 17,700 new recruits since 2006 when President Bush sent out the call to hire 6,000 new agents each year, according to a report in the New University.

And the CBP is yet continuing to grow, hustling up 300 more young men and women through recent recruiting fairs in such far-flung states as Albany, New York and New Jersey.

The hiring bonanza, of course, is good news for a stalled economy, but the bright Border Patrol heyday continues to be dimmed by the plight of Ramos and Compean.

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is the latest lawmaker to condemn President Bush for failing to at least commute the sentences of the two incarcerated agents, who federal prosecutors say tried to cover up the incident.

“President Bush still has time to do the right thing and commute wrongly imprisoned Border Agents Ramos and Compean,” admonished Rohrabacker. “If he doesn’t, while at the same time pardoning blatant criminals, then he will be remembered for the personal persecution and values that decision reflects.

“The fact that the president has neglected to free these men from their imprisonment while freeing drug dealers, embezzlers and other criminals is insulting to the American people who have been begging and pleading for the president to release the agents whose prosecution was unjust from the beginning,” the lawmaker added in a released statement. “For the sake of justice, let’s hope this is not the last round of pardons and commutations.”

Meanwhile, if Ramos and Compean have nothing to celebrate, the new Border Patrol recruits can look forward to some pretty good pay and benefits.

Recruits earn $36,000 to $46,000 in their first year, and are given the possibility of earning $70,000 a year within their first three years, according to press reports and information disseminated by the agency itself.

The pay alone is enough to keep The U.S. Border Patrol in the top echelon of federal agencies that does not suffer from a high turnover rate. Its modest 12 percent annual turnover rate is related mainly to retiring agents and agents transferring to other federal law enforcement jobs, according to a report by New University.

The recruits keep rolling off the bus at the BP academy in Artesia, New Mexico. There they are enrolled in a 55-day basic training program – but only after showing proficiency in the Spanish language. Those who need remedial work on the language requirement must pass through a rigorous Spanish immersion course.

Morale on the Rise

A couple of years ago, according to reports from the Associated Press, too many suspects caught smuggling immigrants across the border, near San Diego, for instance, were never prosecuted for the offense – reportedly demoralizing the U.S. Border Patrol agents making the arrests, according to an internal document obtained by AP.

“It is very difficult to keep agents’ morale up when the laws they were told to uphold are being watered down or not prosecuted,” the report cited.

According to the AP, federal officials said at the time that the troubles near San Diego simply was indicative of a sad trend along the entire 2,000-mile border -- judges and federal attorneys were so swamped that only the visible and serious smuggling cases are prosecuted.

These days, the CBP deemphasizes the human cargo runner, per se, for the broader so-called “line watch,” a duty most rooky agents feel good about and don’t question.

“Line watch,” say CBP officials, involves the detection, prevention and apprehension of terrorists, undocumented aliens and smugglers of aliens at or near the land border by maintaining surveillance from a covert position, following up leads, responding to electronic sensor television systems, aircraft sightings, and interpreting and following tracks, marks and other physical evidence.

So how’s morale these days? Great, say CBP officials, and why not in this era of scarce employment and no-frills work? Being an agent is a great job.

If the patriotic hook of being on the front “line watch” of your nation’s security doesn’t do the trick, the plentiful benefits will.

The goodies for new recruits include: enrollment in the Federal Employees Retirement System; enrollment options in four different health insurance programs; participation in Federal Employees Group Life Insurance; employee death benefit; personal leave days for vacation, family care, and illness; paid training; ten paid holidays per year; transportation subsidy; employee assistance program; tuition assistance; flexible work schedule; fitness centers; student loan repayment; enhanced law enforcement retirement benefits for certain occupations; and more.

Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean at one point were part and parcel of this bright and hopeful fraternity of service. What’s more, in October 2007 Ramos, was nominated to be Border Patrol Agent of the Year.

Their mistake, perhaps: being too aggressive while on that all-important “line watch.”

Walter Harwell, a CBP agent and spokesman told New Mexico’s Daily Gazette recently that all was not a walk in the sun for border agents: “There is some danger when on the clock, due to vehicle accidents during high-speed chases and, sometimes, gunfights with criminals who are often drug dealers smuggling narcotics and illegal aliens across the border.”

What Harwell didn’t mention, of course, is that Ramos and Compean had more to deal with on their watch than the danger inherent to high-speed chases and gunfights. They had a lurking and catastrophic Catch-22.

Ramos and Compean were given their heavy minimum-mandatory time for using their government issued firearms “during the commission of a felony.”

Many have argued that the draconian statute never was designed to apply to law enforcement officers in the course of duty.

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