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Border crossing expansion spurs need for more officers

Mar. 10, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
A Customs and Border Protection agent checks a passport at the vehicle crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents CBP officers, says about 3,000 more officers are needed to fully staff border crossings and checkpoints.
A Customs and Border Protection agent checks a passport at the vehicle crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents CBP officers, says about 3,000 more officers are needed to fully staff border crossings and checkpoints. (Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images)

As border crossings across the nation expand to increase service and decrease wait times, there is one problem: There are not enough Customs and Border Protection officers to fully staff them.

Colleen Kelley, president of National Treasury Employees Union, which represents CBP officers, said about 3,000 more officers are needed to fully staff existing border crossings and checkpoints, based on recent reports and a CBP staffing model.

"Any new port expansion without significant personnel additions would only exacerbate these conditions and place CBP officers under excessive strain and even at risk," Kelley said.

Current understaffing forces CBP officers to go without backup and contributes to longer wait times, Kelley said.

Congress appropriated $300 million to the General Services Administration in the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to help renovate and expand border crossings. GSA has since identified and helped fund expansions at 13 border crossings, including a center serving two airports (designated ports of entry) in the Columbus, Ohio, area. The U.S. staffs 330 border crossings. But while the number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled from 10,000 in 2004 to about 20,500 in 2010, the number of CBP officers has grown 14 percent from 18,134 in 2005 to 20,687 in 2010.

Congress passed a $600 million border security bill in August that provided 1,000 more Border Patrol agents but only 250 more CBP officers. In 2010, CBP trained more than 1,215 Border Patrol agents but only 117 CBP officers.

The Department of Homeland Security's 2012 budget request seeks money for 1,000 new Border Patrol agents but only 350 CBP officers.

"We continue to evaluate our evolving staffing needs to appropriately manage cross border travel and trade," CBP spokeswoman Stephanie Malin said in a statement. She said she could not address how many officers CBP needs to fully staff its border crossings.

In San Diego, a $557 million project at the San Ysidro crossing would add vehicle inspection lanes, a pedestrian bridge and a parking garage. But the number of CBP officers working at the San Diego Field Office fell from 2,023 in 2009 to 1,948 in 2010. The San Diego Association of Governments expects traffic at San Ysidro to increase by 90 percent by 2030. It estimates there are already waits of up to three hours to cross the border.

The DHS Southwest Border Task Force in 2009 recommended more CBP officers. Canada's Border-Facilitation Working Group, which oversees its border with the U.S., also found that more CBP officers are needed.

The chances of Congress approving a significant increase in CBP officers are remote, however. None of the bills to fund agencies for the remainder of 2011 would increase the number of CBP officers. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced immigration reform legislation in September that would have authorized DHS to hire 5,000 more CBP officers, but the bill died in committee.

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