US border officers get help with their guard duty, return to the field | national news



SAN DIEGO (AP) – Dozens, if not hundreds, of migrant asylum seekers often wait hours before surrendering to U.S. border patrol agents, but thousands of Haitians gathered on a bridge in the small border town of Del Rio in Texas may be unprecedented and point to a glaring federal police staffing problem.

Instead of patrolling and discovering smuggling activity, its officers spend around 40% of their time dealing with people already in detention and administrative tasks unrelated to border security.

The agency hopes to free officers to return to the field by hiring civilians for tasks such as ensuring microwave burritos are properly served, checking holding cells and the tedious work of collecting food. information for immigration court papers.

The Border Patrol graduated its first class of “treatment coordinators” in January, with the aim of eventually hiring 1,200. The position requires less training than law enforcement and pays less. It is also seen as a recruiting tool for an agency struggling to find qualified candidates, especially women.

While it is too early to know if the new hires will perform as hoped, initial assessments of the hiring plan are generally favorable. Their skills will be in high demand as US authorities respond to Haitians who have suddenly arrived in Del Rio and other large groups of newcomers.

“It’s a very, very good program. It’s a much needed program, ”said Brandon Judd, chairman of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing many of the nearly 20,000 officers. “It’s a program that will allow us to have more agents in the field.

US Representative Nanette Barragan, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told members of the second class in June that they were “pioneers.” She saw the need for their skills in April during a visit to a detention center in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings from Mexico to the United States.

Unaccompanied children have been held at the facility for days, unable to call their parents, Barragan said. “The officers were working around the clock to process the children quickly, but they needed help,” she told the graduating class.

The need is particularly acute during periodic peaks at the US-Mexico border, including those seen in 2014, 2019 and again this year. The coordinator positions are for 13 months, renewable up to four years.

Most single adults are deported without an opportunity to seek asylum under a pandemic-related authority designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Unaccompanied children and most families can apply for humanitarian protection, giving them little incentive to escape capture as they will be released in the United States with court summons.

As a result, there are migrants who cross the border and wait – and wait – for officers to arrive, and who may need more care once they do. In August, families represented 41% of border patrol encounters and unaccompanied children represented 9%.

Officers also complain that they have less time to prosecute migrants by trying to avoid being arrested.

A civilian coordinator assigned to a border post in the San Diego area, Aide Franco Avalos, got a taste for work in 2019, when she worked for the Transportation Security Administration at Palm Springs International Airport in California.

Franco Avalos volunteered for a temporary border patrol mission in El Paso, Texas, and felt fulfilled dealing with migrants. When she saw an opening in California that wouldn’t require a family move, the Los Angeles native decided to change careers.

“I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into at first because it’s a whole new job, but I knew my agent help was badly needed,” she said.

Avalos would love to become a Border Patrol agent, but at 42, she missed the maximum starting age by 39.

The annual salary for treatment coordinators is between $ 35,265 and $ 51,103, well below what officers earn. The Biden administration’s 2022 budget proposal says the position costs 18.5% less than the average agent.

The border patrol began to seriously consider creating employment in 2014. Discussions intensified when officers were again approached by large numbers of asylum-seeking families and children in 2019, many of them Central America.

“It gets a little repetitive and a little frustrating that there isn’t any other option, doesn’t it?” Said Gloria Chavez, head of the border patrol’s El Paso sector, who was deeply involved in the effort. “Who else can we rely on to help us with this task? That’s when the conversation started.

The agency also hopes the new positions will recruit future agents, including more women, who only make up around 5% of agents, Chavez said.

“The treatment coordinators are going to work hand in hand with our central processing center agents, and they are going to learn a lot of different skills, build their confidence for everyone, and then maybe they will want to apply for these jobs. She said.

Melanie Garcia, 24, quit her job as a prison guard at a psychiatric unit in Lubbock, Texas to work as a treatment coordinator at a Border Patrol detention center in El Paso. She wanted to know more about the agency and be closer to her family. She said the job was “a very good stepping stone” to becoming an agent.

Attanasio reported from El Paso, Texas.

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