Agents Take Pay Cuts, Detainees Get Hair Cuts

Millions spent on providing detained illegal immigrants with creature comforts as DHS cuts agent pay

Detainees play soccer at Stewart Detention Center in Georgia / AP
March 20, 2013

Border patrol agents are facing salary cuts, gas rationing, and other constraints in the face of budget cuts driven by the sequester even as detained illegal immigrants live in detention centers replete with comforts.

No announced cuts have been made for amenities at detention centers, which include taxpayer-funded health care, dental services, barber services, and bingo and movie nights. Funds for the detention centers come from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

ICE and DHS are under fire for the release of more than 2,200 illegal immigrants from detention, some of which were level one offenders and had to be re-apprehended.

The amenities afforded detained illegal immigrants are numerous and are part of the Obama administration’s detention reform initiative. Over the past four years, millions have been spent revamping detention centers.

One such center is the Karnes County Civil Detention Facility in Texas that opened last year at a $32 million cost to taxpayers. Tours of the facility were given to reporters, and their stories depict a college-like setting in which detainees are housed in dorms or suites that hold eight.

Each is equipped with a television and private bathroom. Soccer fields, basketball courts, and other recreation areas, in addition to a computer lab with Internet access and legal resources, are all available to illegal immigrants.

"Detainees will be free to move through much of the center 24 hours a day. Unarmed staff members, dressed in blue polo shirts and khaki trousers, are known as ‘resident advisers,’ not guards," according to a New York Times report.

Other detention centers have also been revamped, including one in Essex County, N.J., which has robust indoor and outdoor recreation.

The spending on such amenities for detainees by one DHS agency, while border patrol agents face cuts in their salaries of up to 40 percent by another agency of DHS, does not sit well with the border patrol union.

"It’s another case of misplaced priorities at the highest level of this agency," said Stuart Harris, vice president of Local 1929 of the National Border Patrol Council in El Paso, Texas.

"It is highly frustrated for our members, when prisoners [are being taken well care of]," said Shawn Moran, the vice president of the National Border Patrol Council. "Agents are facing the loss of their homes. It’s a huge frustration for us."

Border patrol agents are bearing the brunt of the sequester cuts and face 14 furlough days beginning next month as well as cuts in overtime.

Harris said agents have approached him more frequently in recent weeks, saying they are afraid they will lose their homes since they will be unable to pay their mortgages. Others have asked if they should start looking for another job.

"The administration is making politically motivated, rather than fiscally responsible, selective cuts to immigration enforcement in order to advance its unpopular immigration policy agenda," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies, in an email to the Washington Free Beacon.

"It chose to release thousands of immigration detainees, at least thirty percent of whom had been arrested for crimes, and to remove border patrol agents from duty, rather than find ways to cut expenses in a way that would not compromise their mission," Vaughan said.

She added that the agency had more than $100 million in a surplus account. That would be enough to cover the sequestration cuts, "which they have now acknowledged that they could have tapped instead."

Border agents are now dealing with gas rationing. Some agents are being doubled up in vehicles.

Moran said all this will "decrease our effectiveness."

Harris said agents in his region are being loaded into vans and taken to vehicles in the field at each post. Agents must complete their shift in eight hours, even if it means they are in pursuit of drug smugglers in the field.

"They are limiting what agents can do," Harris said. "It’s a hard pill for many agents to swallow. Border patrol agents take pride in what they do. If I’m out in the field, going after drug smugglers, I have to stop whatever I’m doing. They want us to do that."

A review of administrative salaries of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) shows 1,000 people make between $123,758 and $224,625 per year.

"We look at the CBP and see wasteful spending," Moran said, citing a $237 million no-bid contract for 14 more unmanned aerial vehicles, which he said not one agent he knows has operated.

Vaughan pointed to other expenses that ICE could cut that do not impact public safety. They include: the travel and entertainment budget; the chauffeur-driven limos for mid-level political appointees; investigations on matters such as stolen antiquities, counterfeit DVDs, and NFL jerseys; free refills and movie nights in jails; and the office of the Public Advocate, "which spends most of its resources advocating for illegal aliens."

According to Vaughan, CBP does not "need to force the Border Patrol to absorb such a large share of the sequester exercise. They should look at headquarter expenses as well, and slight cuts at the ports of entry where the effect would be a slight inconvenience to travelers, rather than the safety of U.S. communities."

Border patrol agents, whose morale is now at an all-time low, feel the leadership in the DHS is lacking.

"All Border Patrol agents take an oath of office to uphold and enforce the laws of the United States of America," Harris said.

"Now, DHS and CBP, by way of their sequestration plans, are not going to allow us to uphold that oath or stay true to what we swore we would do. There simply is not any leadership in this organization. We have plenty of managers, but apparently those at the top have never heard the phrase ‘lead from the front.’"

DHS did not respond to a request for comment.