Dozens, even hundreds, of asylum-seeking migrants often wait hours to surrender to U.S. Border Patrol agents, but the thousands of Haitians gathered at a bridge in the small Texas border town of Del Rio may be unprecedented and point to a glaring problem with the federal police agency’s staffing.
Instead of conducting patrols and uncovering smuggling activity, its agents spend about 40% of their time caring for people already in custody and administrative tasks that are unrelated to border security. The agency hopes to free up agents to go back into the field by hiring civilians for jobs like making sure microwaved burritos are served properly, checking holding cells, and the time-consuming work of collecting information for immigration court papers. The Border Patrol graduated its first class of “processing coordinators” in January, with the goal of eventually hiring 1,200. Annual pay for processing coordinators is between $35,265 and $51,103, well below what agents earn. The Biden administration’s 2022 budget proposal says the position costs 18.5% less than an average agent.
The position pays less because it requires less training than for law enforcement officers. It is also seen as a recruiting tool for an agency that has struggled to find qualified applicants, particularly women. The Border Patrol began to seriously consider creating the job in 2014. Discussions intensified when agents were again stretched by large numbers of asylum-seeking families and children in 2019, many from Central America. While it’s early to know if the new employees will pan out as hoped, the hiring plan’s initial reviews are generally favorable. Their skills will be in high demand as U.S. authorities respond to the Haitians who suddenly arrived in Del Rio and other large groups of new arrivals.
Border patrol told me heartbreaking stories about migrants losing their lives and how their law enforcement work becomes difficult search and rescue missions. They described dangers of floods and toxic waste in the Tijuana River Channel that endanger migrants and agents. (14/x) pic.twitter.com/y4mlkLhWvO
— Rep. Katie Porter (@RepKatiePorter) September 13, 2021
The agency also hopes the new positions will recruit future agents, including more women, who make up only about 5% of agents.