U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and trainees are being asked to disclose their vaccination status for COVID-19, and those who are not vaccinated could be removed from duty or kicked out of training, internal agency memos obtained by the Washington Examiner show.
According to the publication, border agent trainees were removed from the Artesia, New Mexico, training center in August following the implementation of a new policy from the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the agency’s training, barring unvaccinated trainees from graduating from the academy.
"Those unvaccinated and those partially vaccinated are being removed from training until they agree to be fully vaccinated," Jeffrey Hammes, president of the National Border Patrol Council’s Big Bend, Texas, region, wrote in a memo to members obtained by the Examiner. "This is being done despite the fact that there are no active cases of COVID-19 at the Border Patrol Academy. Many of those unvaccinated trainees at the Academy, after being told that they would be removed from training if they refused to get the vaccine, still refused."
The memo from Academy Official Donna Twyford said the ban would remain in place for 120 days but could be expanded depending on the severity of the delta variant and its infection rates.
According to the Examiner, unvaccinated trainees willing to get the shots were sent to El Paso, Texas, and were set to return once fully vaccinated, on Aug. 19.
Other unvaccinated trainees were sent to work processing migrants who have been taken into custody after they illegally came across the border. The trainees there are working inside facilities and tents where sometimes thousands of migrants were being held at a time in the Rio Grande Valley.
"Yesterday morning [trainees] received a call and all of the trainees that chose to remain unvaccinated are to report to RGV to process illegals Wednesday the 18th," a Border Patrol agent who asked to remain anonymous wrote in a message. "[Unvaccinated] trainees are being punished for doing something within their choice by being sent to the epicenter."
The move comes as border patrol agents are already stretched thin amid the surging number of illegal migrants coming across the southern border in recent months, setting a record of more than 212,000 in July alone.
Border Patrol Union President Brandon Judd told the Examiner that its staffing of 19,500 agents is about 10% less than the 21,370 Congress would like to see, and that the shortage comes from attrition and slow hiring of new agents.
"This is another example of the administration not caring about border security. We're understaffed as it is with a large percentage of our agents in processing rather than patrolling the border, protecting our country and our citizens," Judd wrote in an email to the Examiner. "Refusing to allow trainees to graduate from the academy puts us even further behind by not providing the resources necessary to secure our borders."
According to the article, agents were recently requested to register with the DHS Vaccination Status System which asks if they have received one of the three vaccines for the virus.
Those that decline answering the question are viewed as unvaccinated, according to the report.
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