Trump border hiring surge falls far short, government documents show

Washington (tca/dpa) - Two years after President Donald Trump signed orders to hire 15,000 new border agents and immigration officers, the administration has spent tens of millions of dollars in the effort - but has thousands more vacancies than when it began.

In a sign of the difficulties, Customs and Border Protection allocated 60.7 million dollars to Accenture Federal Services, a management consulting firm, as part of a 297-million-dollar contract to recruit, vet and hire 7,500 border officers during five years, but the company has produced only 33 new hires so far.

The president's promised hiring surge steadily lost ground even as he publicly hammered away at the need for stiffer border security, warned of a looming migrant "invasion" and shut down parts of the government for five weeks because of his demands for 5.7 billion dollars from Congress for a border wall.
The Border Patrol gained a total of 120 agents in 2018, the first net gain in five years.
But the agency has come nowhere close to adding more than 2,700 agents annually, the rate that Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, has said is necessary to meet Trump's mandated 26,370 border agents by the end of 2021.
"The hiring surge has not begun," the inspector general's office at the Department of Homeland Security concluded in November.
"We have had ongoing difficulties with regards to hiring levels to meet our operational needs," a Homeland Security official told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity. He described the Border Patrol's gain last year as "a huge improvement."
Border security agencies long have faced challenges with recruitment and retention of front-line federal law enforcement - in particular Border Patrol agents - much less swiftly hiring 15,000 more.
In March 2017, McAleenan said Customs and Border Protection normally loses about 1,380 agents a year as they retire, quit for better-paying jobs or move. Just filling that hole each year has strained resources.
Beyond that, given historically low illegal immigration on the southern border, even the Homeland Security inspector general has questioned the need for the surge.
But administration officials argue an immigration system designed for single, adult Mexican men has become woefully outdated.
"The number of families and children we are apprehending at the border is at record-breaking levels," another Homeland Security official said. "It's having a dramatic impact on Border Patrol's border security mission."
Since 2015, Customs and Border Protection officers have been required to work overtime and sent on temporary assignments to "critically understaffed" points on the south-west border, Tony Reardon, president of the union representing about 30,000 of the agency's officers, told the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday.
After fighting for years for higher pay, staff and a better hiring process, Reardon said the agency needs to hire more officers for the 328 ports of entry.
"All of this contributes to a stronger border," he said.
On January 25, 2017, five days after Trump was inaugurated, he signed executive orders to hire 5,000 new Border Patrol agents and 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, vowing to beef up border security and crack down on illegal immigration.
"Today the United States of America gets back control of its borders," Trump said as he signed the orders.
Today, Customs and Border Protection - the Border Patrol's parent agency - has more than 3,000 job vacancies, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.
That's about 2,000 more than when Trump signed the orders, according to a Government Accountability Office report on the agency's hiring challenges.
Border Patrol staffing remains below the 21,360 agents mandated by Congress in 2016, which is itself 5,000 less than Trump's order, according to the latest available data.
In July 2017, six months after Trump signed his executive orders, the Homeland Security inspector general's office said the agencies were facing "significant challenges" and could not justify the hiring surge.
Officials could not "provide complete data to support the operational need or deployment strategies for the additional 15,000 additional agents and officers they were directed to hire," the inspector general's office wrote.

Sunday, January 27th 2019
By Molly O'Toole, Los Angeles Times

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