No matter which version of the sweeping immigration reform legislation finally makes it into law, Chris Cabrera just hopes it provides more resources for U.S. Border Patrol agents.
"I'm kind of skeptical that it will go through," Cabrera, a border patrol agent and union vice president, told Newsmax on Thursday after the U.S. Senate approved an historic immigration bill.
Cabrera, who represents about 2,000 agents in the Rio Grande Valley area of South Texas, is vice president of Local 3307 of the National Border Patrol Agents Council.
"The last time they approved fencing here in South Texas, it didn't get completed," Cabrera said. "Same thing with hiring more agents. They said they were going to hire more agents, then something happens and it gets scaled back."
The Senate approved the immigration legislation in a 68-32 vote. The bill includes enhanced border-protection measures, including doubling the number of border patrol agents from 20,000 to 40,000.
The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to face strong criticism from Republicans over border security and provisions in the bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants.
Cabrera said he was most interested in hiring additional agents.
"My biggest concern is making sure that these agents get the proper training," he told Newsmax. "Anytime you look to hire 20,000 people — or even 5,000 people — and run them through the mill, you get concerned about them taking short-cuts and hiring folks that aren't qualified for the job."
He said that when U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials went on a hiring spree about six years ago, training was halved to three months. "Record checks and background checks were, to me, it seems, expedited. I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing.
"At the union, we're really concerned about the quality of agent that we're getting in," Cabrera added. "We want our agents to have the capacity to do the job and be right for the job."
And while the Senate bill calls for doubling the length of proposed fencing along the border with Mexico — from 350 miles to 700 miles — Cabrera cautioned that "if you build, say, a 20-foot-high fence, people are going to come with a 21-foot ladder.
"We get a lot of ladders — and [illegals] either find their way over it or through it or under it or around it. There's always going to be a way."
Currently, about 40 miles of fencing has been built along the border, and patches of it are included in the Rio Grande Valley.
"It's built in bits and pieces — a 10-mile stretch, five-mile stretch here and there. There's a gap in the middle."
The Senate bill also calls for the increased use of surveillance technology along the border. This would include unmanned drones, cameras, and ground sensors.
The technology would be greatly appreciated, Cabrera said. "We have some, but there's always a need for more."
He also told Newsmax that the increased activity surrounding immigration reform on Capitol Hill has led to even more illegals crossing the borders into the United States.
The Rio Grande Valley, the deepest corner of Texas abutting Mexico, now "seems to be the spot: ground zero," he said. "Everything is coming through this area. It's probably the busiest it's ever been.
"With the apprehension numbers, obviously, those are only the numbers we're catching, and there's a bigger number of those who are getting away."
While he did not immediately have figures, Cabrera said the number of illegals arrested is higher than the 7,500 arrested in March.
"I know there’s been one weekend — just one weekend — when there were over 1,000 in one station," he said. "We've had bigger days since then."
Many illegal immigrants are caught while traveling through the brush between Hidalgo and Sullivan City in Texas, a winding 30-mile stretch of the Rio Grande.
It's popular with immigrants, who speed across the Rio Grande and assimilate into the small towns along the border, the local news website TheMonitor.com reports.
"We're handling it as best we can. ... So far, we do the best with what we have and hope that relief is coming soon," Cabrera said.
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