WASHINGTON, June 25, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Agents from the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are doing a commendable job under difficult circumstances to address a record high number of unaccompanied juveniles and immigrants from Central America crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, union leaders from the American Federation of Government Employees testified today.
Both the Border Patrol and ICE have seen a reduction in staffing due to sequestration and other budget constraints, making it that much harder to cope with the increases, officials from AFGE's National Border Patrol Council and National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council said in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.
"I understand that conditions in some areas are not at the standards we would all like to see, especially as it pertains to the children, but our officers are doing the best they can with the resources they've been provided," ICE Council President Chris Crane testified. "Many of our officers frequently go above and beyond, taking money out of their own pockets to buy diapers, baby formula and food for these children.
"The agents and officers of the Border Patrol and ICE are too often criticized, even demonized, but rarely recognized as the dedicated public servants they truly are. Their actions during this humanitarian crisis are commendable."
Border Patrol agents are apprehending, processing and caring for thousands of immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally along the Rio Grande Valley. ICE officers from the Enforcement and Removal Operations unit are transporting hundreds of these immigrants out of the Rio Grande Valley each week to placement locations with the Office of Refugee Resettlement/Division of Child Services.
Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd said the apprehensions are straining the border enforcement system and diverting agents' attention from traditional law enforcement duties. Nearly 40 percent of manpower has been pulled from the field to process and care for immigrants, according to reports.
"This decrease has stressed our workforce to the breaking point and makes it nearly impossible to effectively patrol the border and fight against organized crime," Judd testified.
Cartels are taking advantage of the situation and forcing additional juveniles and immigrants to cross the border between the ports of entry, effectively using these immigrants as a human shield to divert resources that would otherwise be spent interrupting their trafficking operations.
"These cartels have a well-developed intelligence network and are very skilled at exploiting our shortages in manpower," Judd said.
Both Judd and Crane said their agencies need additional staff and resources to effectively handle the immigration increase and strengthen law enforcement operations along the border.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia. AFGE's National Border Patrol Council represents about 16,500 agents and support staff, while the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council represents about 7,600 officers, agents and employees.
SOURCE American Federation of Government Employees