The Border Patrol is “critically understaffed” amid the border surge, sapping agents’ morale and punching gaps in the nation’s security, the top Republican on a subcommittee that oversees government operations said Monday.
Rep. Jody Hice, the ranking member on the House Oversight subcommittee on government operations, said part of the blame for poor morale lies at the feet of the Biden administration itself, which has spent months disputing labels such as “crisis” at the border.
In a letter to the acting commissioner at Customs and Border Protection, Mr. Hice demanded data to evaluate changes in morale, the Border Patrol’s mission and COVID infections among agents.
“While staffing issues have long been a concern, Border Patrol agents tell me that they are now critically understaffed, working longer hours but less time on the line patrolling the border as their attention is diverted to the care and custody of families and children due to the recent migrant surge,” the Georgia congressman said in the letter.
He also pointed to smuggling cartels’ use of the surge to distract agents, sending high-value loads such as drugs or more dangerous illegal immigrants across while agents are tied up with large family groups. And Mr. Hice said the evidence is that it’s working, with soaring numbers of “gotaways,” or migrants the government believes it detected entering but never apprehended.
Agents are being pulled off the line to babysit the children and families that are surging across, which is why even as overtime has increased, there’s less actual time on patrol.
It’s a repeat of 2019, during the last surge, when some portions of the border reported 50% of agents’ time was spent on caretaking duties.
That previous surge drew bipartisan oversight, but this year’s surge under President Biden is striking in the lack of interest from Democratic committee and subcommittee chairs.
That’s left Republicans to seek out answers through letter requests like Mr. Hice’s.
The Border Patrol has suffered a staffing problem for years, with retirements and resignations regularly sapping more agents than were brought on each year.
The agency is funded for more than 22,000 positions, but has fewer than 20,000 on the job. President Trump had proposed adding 5,000 new agents over time, but Congress rejected funding for the positions, pointing to the existing shortfall.
Agents have in the past been dinged for their actions, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, during the 2019 surge claiming one migrant told her agents had forced detainees to get drinking water out of toilets.
CBP vehemently denied that, saying Ms. Ocasio-Cortez botched the Spanish translation, though she says that’s not true.
Mr. Hice in his letter Monday said that sort of criticism has taken its toll, even though overcrowding at Border Patrol facilities is due to kinks in the pipeline up the chain, with the Health and Human Services Department or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Border Patrol agents are often wrongfully blamed for deteriorating conditions of custody in facilities that were simply not designed to house large numbers of families and unaccompanied children, even though it is the Biden Administration’s policies which have caused the current crisis,” Mr. Hice wrote.
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