A proposed border enforcement agent hiring surge — which would be the largest since the George W. Bush administration — is a questionable allocation of funds based on illegal migrant apprehension statistics, according to former U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials speaking to Reuters reporter Mica Rosenberg.

In 2016, 400,000 individuals were apprehended trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, down substantially from the 1.6 million caught in 2000, according to Rosenberg's report published Feb. 24. Department of Homeland Security guidance released Feb. 21 called for adding 5,000 border patrol agents and 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

W. Ralph Basham, the CBP head during the Bush administration, wondered if such an expansion was necessary.

"The question will be: Do we need more agents or do we need money for technology and infrastructure?" he said, supporting CBP's funding for equipment and realistic agent hiring expectations but wondering if Congress approving additional human resources is "a check that is not necessary."

A shared concern among those interviewed was that a rapid hiring initiative could pose logistical issues and result in a compromised vetting stage. 

"When you speed up the process and don't take the requisite time, you pay a price later in things like corruption," said Gil Kerlikowske, CBP head for three years under President Barack Obama.

During the post-9/11 manpower push, which doubled CBP border patrol agents from 10,000 to 20,000 by 2008, internal corruption cases increased to the point the Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010 was passed, making polygraph testing mandatory for all border patrol agents. In addition, current applicants undergo a cognitive exam, fingerprinting, financial disclosure, fitness tests, medical examinations and background checks.

While those speaking to Rosenberg believe in the need to secure the border, they would rather not see the agency experience resource gaps or entertaining substandard candidates to fulfill an executive order.

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