The New York Times
The Trump administration has begun the detail work of stiffening the country’s immigration infrastructure, according to an internal memo from the Department of Homeland Security, moving to speed the hiring of border agents, to find space to detain thousands more immigrants and to hasten deportation cases.
Even as the federal courts trip up President Trump’s ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries and Congress signals it is in no rush to pay for a border wall, the administration is pushing the vast border enforcement network to begin choking off illegal immigration.
Homeland Security’s plan to greatly expand its Border Patrol has been known for some time and includes adding about 5,000 agents, in part by allowing some applicants to skip the polygraph test that is required for all prospective hires.
That proposal has been praised by Border Patrol agents, who say the polygraph is excessively difficult, and questioned by some experts, who say the test is needed to screen out drug cartel members and other problematic hires.
The memo, which was first reported by The Washington Post, outlined several other ways in which the administration is considering relaxing hiring standards and stepping up recruitment.
Beyond removing the polygraph hurdle, the memo discusses eliminating a part of the entrance exam that tests the Spanish language skills of prospective hires, explaining that “few applicants fail the entrance exam solely because of these tests.” New agents will still have to obtain “the appropriate level of proficiency in Spanish” to graduate from the academy, the memo says.
All applicants must now pass two physical fitness tests, but the memo suggests that only one of the tests will count toward deciding whether to hire a Customs and Border Protection officer or a Border Patrol agent. Those who do not meet physical fitness standards at the academy, the document says, will “receive additional training.”
The memo is only a “draft that hasn’t made it to the front office yet,” said David Lapan, a spokesman for the department. “Anything in it is subject to change.”
James Tomsheck, a former assistant commissioner for internal affairs at Customs and Border Protection, said any attempt to speed hiring by lowering standards leaves the agency vulnerable to corrupt or compromised agents. “I can’t see how this makes the border any more secure,” he said, calling the polygraph change “preposterous.”
Even if more applicants qualify, the agency lacks the capacity or the money to process them quickly. By March, it took an average of about 300 days to hire a border agent, according to the memo, though that was an improvement over the 469-day average in January 2016.
The administration has already asked Congress to appropriate more than $60 million to help speed hiring, including money to encourage agents to move to less desirable regions along the border and expand recruiting efforts.
Some of the money will help extend Customs and Border Protection’s outreach efforts at high schools and colleges and amplify its social media presence in order “to reach the millennial generation,” the memo says.
Though the number of people apprehended at the border has fallen sharply in recent months and some detention beds are now empty, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has found 27 private and government facilities with 21,000 more potential beds for detention, according to the document. But it notes that the agency does not have the money to pay for them.
The administration also wants Mexico to agree to hold would-be immigrants while their cases go through American immigration courts. To speed those hearings, the administration is considering holding them by videoconference or sending more immigration judges to the border.
The memo also says that more than 50 police departments are interested in partnering with the federal agency to help enforce immigration laws, a program known as 287(g) that the Obama administration dropped amid concerns that it encouraged racial profiling and other abuses. The agency is already in the process of signing on 26 other jurisdictions.