What Border Patrol Agents Think About Immigration Policy
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
With immigration discussions foundering on Capitol Hill, we wondered what the people on the frontlines of implementing those policies think. Chris Cabrera is a spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents the nation's almost 20,000 border patrol agents. He joins us on the line from his office in McAllen, Texas, on the border. Welcome to the program.
CHRIS CABRERA: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So as Congress and the president negotiate over immigration policy, what do you and your colleagues want them to know?
CABRERA: Our biggest concern is getting clear marching orders and, you know, getting this wall built in the strategic locations and just going forward and getting it done.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I was on the border, and I talked to the head of the Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley. And he said that a literal wall is only needed in a very few places and that, actually, what is needed is more of a technological wall - cameras, infrared technology, drones.
CABRERA: You have the need for a physical barrier. You have the need for technology with the infrared, with, you know, the ground sensors and cameras. And you have the personnel aspect of it, as well. The wall and the technology won't do you any good unless you have the manpower to actually physically apprehend somebody.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the president talks about this sort of wall from sea to shining sea.
CABRERA: Yeah. You know, I honestly - I don't think that's going to work. I mean, if you look at Big Bend, you'll have areas that are a 30-foot cliff down to the Rio Grande. And to put another 30-foot section on top of that - it seems kind of redundant.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What about Border Patrol agents? Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, of which you belong, complained just this past week on Capitol Hill that the president has only proposed and Congress is slated on funding 500 new agents this year. At this rate, the agents we hire this year will be halfway to retirement before we meet the goal in 2028. Are you satisfied with the amount of support you're getting for hiring more agents?
CABRERA: Well, you know, one of the problems we're having is not necessarily hiring more agents - is retaining the agents we do have. That is one of our biggest problems right now. You know, we have to pay our agents competitively. If not, they'll go to other agencies, which we've been seeing recently.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The National Border Patrol Council supported President Donald Trump for president when he was a candidate. How are they feeling now in terms of the support that they've gotten from this administration?
CABRERA: Our support is still there 100 percent. It hasn't wavered.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But how are you feeling that the president is supporting you?
CABRERA: I think he is supporting us. I haven't seen anything to show that he's not supporting us. Morale is at the highest point since I've been in. So that's a good thing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There has been a lot of criticism, though, of some of the policies of not only ICE but the Border Patrol agents. We've seen cases of what people feel are sort of egregious actions against undocumented people. There was a case last fall of a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. She had been brought over the border illegally when she was 3 months old. And then she was detained by immigration authorities in Texas. Can you speak to that? I mean, there is a concern that these expanded powers are being abused.
CABRERA: She did come through a border checkpoint. She was in a private car. So everybody that comes to that checkpoint has to be inspected. Now, had they called ahead, or she had some documentation in order, they could've expedited the process. But that wasn't done.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there is a broader concern. I'm sure you understand that there is a sense that, possibly, people are being targeted, and there is a climate of fear among the immigrant community.
CABRERA: You know, I understand your concern, but I don't believe. I don't see it. The reality in which I live in down here on the border is I see border patrol agents that risk their lives to jump into a river to save someone who's drowning. I see agents that'll give their last bottle of water to someone we apprehend. You know, I know we like to get painted as a bunch of thugs walking the border, but that can be - couldn't be farther from the truth. You know, and if you come into the country illegally - the first act you did in this country was illegal - and you're worried about somebody enforcing the law because you're here illegally, I mean, who's in the right, and who's in the wrong?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chris Cabrera of the National Border Patrol Council, thanks for speaking with us.
CABRERA: All right. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.