Dozens, if not hundreds, of asylum-seeking migrants, frequently wait for 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, pointing to a significant problem with the federal police agency’s staffing. 

Instead of patrolling and finding smuggling activity, its agents spend roughly 40% of their time caring for detainees already in detention and performing administrative tasks unrelated to border security jobs. By recruiting civilians for responsibilities such as ensuring microwaved burritos are correctly delivered, checking holding cells, and the time-consuming task of collecting information for immigration court documents, the agency wants to free up agents to return to the field. 

The Border Patrol graduated its first class of “processing coordinators” to eventually hire 1,200. The profession requires less training than that of a police officer and pays less. It is also viewed as a recruiting tool for an agency that has had difficulty finding appropriate applicants, particularly women. 

While it is too early to tell if the new personnel will perform as expected, initial feedback on the hiring plan has been positive. Their abilities will be in great demand when US authorities respond to the Haitians who landed unexpectedly in Del Rio and other significant groups of new entrants. 

This is a very, very good program. It is a very necessary program,” said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union representing many of the nearly 20,000 agents. “It’s a program that will allow us to get more agents in the field.” 

In June, U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragan, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told the second graduating class that they were “pioneers.” In April, she noticed the need for such expertise when visiting a detention center in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the largest corridor for illegal border crossings from Mexico to the United States. 

Unaccompanied children were held at the facility for days, unable to call their parents, Barragan said. “Agents were working around the clock to process the children quickly, but they needed help,” she told the graduating class. 

The need is especially acute during periodic spikes at the U.S.-Mexico border, including ones seen in 2014, 2019 and again this year. The coordinator positions are for 13 months, renewable up to four years. 

Under a pandemic-related power designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, most single adults are ejected without the opportunity to request asylum. Unaccompanied minors and most families can apply for humanitarian protection, but they have little reason to flee because they will be released in the United States with court dates set. 

As a result, some migrants cross the border and wait – and wait – for agents and may require further treatment once they arrive. Families accounted up 41% of Border Patrol interactions in August, while unaccompanied minors made up 9%. Agents also claim that they have less time to track down migrants attempting to escape being apprehended. 

Aide Franco Avalos, a civilian coordinator, assigned to a border station in the San Diego area, got a taste of the job while working for the Transportation Security Administration at Palm Springs International Airport in California in 2019. 

 Franco Avalos volunteered for a temporary Border Patrol assignment in El Paso, Texas, and felt fulfilled caring for migrants. When she saw an opening in California that wouldn’t require a family move, the Los Angeles native decided on a career change. “I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into at first because it’s a brand-new position, but I knew that my assistance to the agents was greatly needed,” she said. 

Avalos aspires to be a Border Patrol agent, but at 42, she is past the minimum beginning age of 39. Processing coordinators earn between $35,265 and $51,103 per year, significantly less than what agents earn. According to the Biden administration’s budget request for 2022, the post costs 18.5 percent less than the average agent. 

In 2014, the Border Patrol began seriously considering creating the position. When agents were again overburdened by large numbers of asylum-seeking families and children, many of whom were from Central America, discussions heated up. 

 “It becomes a bit repetitious and a bit frustrating that there’s no other option, right?” said Gloria Chavez, chief of the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, who was deeply involved in the effort. “Who else can we lean on to help us with this task? So that’s when the conversation started.” Chavez said the agency also hopes the new positions will recruit future agents, including more women, who make up only about 5% of agents. 

The processing coordinators are going to be working hand in hand with our agents at the central processing center, and they’re going to be learning a lot of different skills, building up their confidence for everyone, and then maybe they want to apply for those jobs,” she said. 

Source: ABC News