Administration Should Balance Focus Both At the Ports and Between them, as CBP’s Staffing Challenges Continue in Multiple Areas

As President Trump entered office in 2017 promising to bolster U.S./Mexico border security, his focus was largely on building a border wall and increasing the number of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents in order to ramp up enforcement against illegal immigration between the ports of entry and in the interior of the country. While the Administration is still pushing this effort as many Border Patrol sectors across the Southwest Border are staffed below their Congressionally authorized level of Agents, the President has not been nearly as vocal about addressing the shortage of Customs and Border Protection Officers (CBPOs) for the CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO), who enforce immigration and trade laws at ports of entry. Though many in both parties of Congress recognize the need for more CBPOs, as evidenced by the attention the issue received in October 2017 during the Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing for Acting Commissioner, Kevin McAleenan, the White House has not demonstrated as sincere of an appreciation for the vital trade enforcement and facilitation role that CBP Field Operations plays.

In fairness, the hiring challenge did exist prior to the Trump Administration taking office and the staffing numbers were beginning to dip below their authorization levels during the closing years of the Obama Administration. The concern then, as it is now, is how to remedy the issue and fill out the ranks in both Border Patrol and Field Operations. After taking steps to streamline the hiring process, such as altering the polygraph procedure, CBP has recently issued a contract worth up to $297 Million, based on performance, for an outside firm to assist with the hiring process. While the contract does reference the hiring of 5,000 Border Patrol Agents (BPAs) and 2,000 CBPOs among other positions, it remains to be seen where the focus will ultimately lie.

A year ago, the President issued an Executive Order calling for the additional 5,000 BPAs, but he may not be fully aware of just how critical CBPOs are to executing his trade enforcement agenda. Properly resourced CBPOs and trade specialists are critical to identifying and interdicting dumped or counterfeit goods from China, or dangerous narcotics such as opioids that arrive illegally through the international mail-two priority issues for the President. More CBP Agriculture Inspectors are also needed in key Southwest Border locations, where large quantities of produce from Mexico must be processed while fresh in order to meet consumer demand and support the industry’s economy.

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