For border security, CBP agents are more suitable than National Guard soldiers

A real problem is that the hiring process of CBP agents is broken. It currently takes approximately a year to hire an agent. In the last large hiring of agents, rapid background checks, psychological tests, lie detector tests, and other recognized impediments to hiring unqualified agents were not in place. It should not take one year to hire an agent. And the public should not have to worry that this same agent may not be fit to wear the green uniform. In recent testimony by Brandon Judd, President of the Border Patrol union, he stated that, “…from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2016, Border Patrol hired an average of 523 agents per year while experiencing a loss of an average of 904 agents per year.”

At the same time, numerous standards at the CBP academy have been lowered to assure more men and women pass the training requirements; academy training was reduced from six months to, in many cases, less than two months. It is not by chance that incidences of incompetence, violence, graft, and corruption have increased among agents in the field.

Agents who pass the academy should still be closely mentored during their probationary periods at their assigned station. If they are professionally chosen, trained, and sustained by the CBP to carry out their high-risk jobs, then they become more efficient and productive in their work, less alienated, and in general better guardians of our national security.

In contrast, what can the National Guard actually do along the border? Well, in all honesty, not much. They can certainly help in round-the-clock surveillance, complete some of the noxious daily paper work, and demonstrate by their presence that we are concerned as a nation about our border security.

But truthfully, the National Guard surveillance is each day less and less necessary because of the addition of sophisticated surveillance technologies that finally are becoming available to every CBP agent after the pronounced failure of the Secure Border Initiative (see Lee Maril, “The real cost of CBP’s failed SBInet is $1.389 billion.” HSNW, 7 March 2016). These systems include the Integrated Fixed Towers, the Mobile Video Surveillance System, and Multiple Surveillance Capability Vehicles, among others.

Last but not least,is the question of the cost effectiveness of sending our National Guard to the Mexican Border. It is estimated that the Texas National Guard is running up a bill of approximately $1 million a month, a bill now approaching $63 million over the last few years.) Unfortunately, no independent review of these costs has been conducted to date. Moreover, while Texas has the longest expanse of border, there are still the costs of the National Guard in New Mexico, Arizona, and California to add to the final bill.

Regardless of whether one supports or opposes Trump’s sending our National Guard to the Mexican Border, careful research is required to assess the utility and cost effectiveness of his decision. The GAO is the agency to conduct such research. At the same time, a shortened but more rigorous hiring process, longer period of training at the CBP academy, and continued recruiting and mentoring of male and female agents arriving at their first postings all would do much to increase efficiency and morale at CBP. Finally, if we are going to send the National Guard to the Mexican border, care should be taken to minimize their visibility as soldiers of war to reduce the politicized image of the Mexican border as a war zone. We also need to demonstrate to the public, including border residents, that their federal tax dollars are being wisely utilized.

Lee Maril, a professor of Sociology at East Carolina University, is the author of The Fence: National Security, Public Safety, and Illegal Immigration along the U.S.-Mexico Border, and Patrolling Chaos: the U.S. Border Patrol in Deep South Texas.