Sunday, February 1, 2009

America's Frontline is Abuzz

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks set off the Bush administration’s “Global War on Terrorism” and a Border Patrol hiring frenzy that continues into the Obama administration. While other sectors are frantically shedding jobs, the homeland-security complex continues its hiring binge. “New Year, New Career” is the slogan of the new hiring campaign by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. CBP hosted job fairs across the country on Jan. 31 as it seeks to hire 11,000 new employees. “Step Up to America’s Frontline” is one of its pitches to recruit 4,600 Border Patrol agents. Announcing the job fairs that occurred in 14 cities, CBP’s Tara Dunlop said, "We have gone through unprecedented expansion in the last several years. We need additional folks." America’s frontline is buzzing. While the nation awaits an economic stimulus bill that will help repair the country’s infrastructure of roads, bridges, and ports, the Department of Homeland Security is already flush with funds for new infrastructure. All manner of “tactical infrastructure” is going up along the border line. Construction workers hurriedly erect the remaining portions of the first phase of the “secure fence.” An array of sensors, lighting towers, and access roads and bridges for the Border Patrol now extends to the most remote stretches of the borderlands. The ports of the nation’s major coastal cities may be deteriorating, but even the smallest and least used ports-of-entry along the southwestern border are being overhauled, expanded, and fortified. But bricks-and-mortar projects seem like a minor part of the border buildup. Perhaps the most visible part of the border’s homeland security boom are men and their vehicles. Along America’s frontline, they seem omnipresent. Whether on the major thoroughfares or on the backroads of the borderlands, you will be sure to see the green-and-white Broncos, vans, and jeeps of the Border Patrol. These vehicles – two for every three agents – crowd the parking lots of ICE and CBP facilities along the border. At the large ICE processing center in El Paso, the hundreds of parked Border Patrol vehicles force the lawyers and visitors of detained immigrants to find parking on the surrounding streets. The Border Patrol has doubled since 2000. More than 6,000 entered the force in the last two years, and another two thousands are scheduled to come on line by September. With 18,000 agents, the Border Patrol counts on half again as many agents as does the FBI, with its 12,000 agents. Already the largest federal law enforcement agency, the Border Patrol, along with the CBP, is still expanding, although it’s unclear to what degree the Border Patrol buildup relates to the agency’s central mission: “Protecting Our Borders Against Terrorism.” Border Patrol Commissioner Robert Bonner says, “We understand that as America’s frontline, the security of a nation rests on our shoulders. We have learned the lessons of 9/11 and are working day and night to make America safer and more secure.” Along America’s frontline, however, there is increasing criticism that the Border Patrol is an outside occupying force whose thousands of new agents don't understand the borderlands or respect its residents. Photo of Border Patrol truck near Ft. Hancock Port of Entry/Tom Barry

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