Locals Urge Shift in Border Protection Policy

They're pushing Washington to focus on customs officers instead of Border Patrol.
by | April 8, 2011
 

Think border protection, and images of the "men in green" -- patrol agents who work in remote areas chasing drug runners and illegal immigrants through rough terrain -- likely come to mind.

That's what Washington thinks of too. Over the past seven years, the federal government has placed a growing emphasis on the duties of Border Patrol, largely due to the Sept. 11 attacks and heightened fervor over illegal immigration.
 
But state and local officials, as well as trade advocates, are urging federal leaders to rethink their approach to border protection and devote more resources to the "men in blue" who often have a lower profile. They're the customs agents who work at the ports of entry where nearly 1 million people enter the U.S. every day. The agents keep an eye out for contraband that people may be attempting to smuggle through the country's front door, and for immigrants who may be using forged documents to sneak in.
 
While the work of Border Patrol agents is certainly more exciting (think ATVs speeding through the desert as helicopters fly overhead), agents who work at the country's land ports of entry are integral to facilitating the flow of people and goods to the country.
 
"It's sexy to be that crime-figher," says Nelson Balido, head of the non-profit Border Trade Alliance, of the emphasis on Border Patrol. But now, he says, "it's time for the blue guys."
 
Balido, whose group represents government and private-sector leaders who advocate for improved trade policies, says Washington has misplaced its priorities. 
 
According to Government Accountability Office figures, in 2004, the feds had 17,600 customs agents assigned at ports, compared to 10,500 border patrol officers working the land in between. By last year, that gap had almost entirely narrowed, with nearly 20,000 Border Patrol agents compared to 20,600 agents at ports. 
 
See graphic below. Article continues beneath graphic.
 

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