U.S. Customs and Border Protection in December reached its goal of hiring 6,000 new border agents.
The objective was set two years ago by former President George W. Bush in a bid to deter cross-border illegal activity — from smuggling to border jumping.
CBP now employs more than 18,000 border personnel — up 50 percent from 12,000 in 2006 — and aims to increase the number to 20,000 by September, said Steven Cribby, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman.
The Border Patrol will receive an additional $500 million to reach this goal, which will give the agency a $3.5 billion budget for 2009, Cribby said.
Apprehensions of smugglers and illegal immigrants dropped more than 44 percent since CBP began the initiative in 2006, the agency said in a statement.
Applicants came from all 50 states, he said. New officers were recruited at military bases — veterans represented 23 percent of new hires — nationwide hiring events and via the Border Patrol’s website.
Minorities were recruited through outreach to historically black colleges, urban leagues, churches and civic organizations, the statement said. Candidates underwent a screening process including a written examination, an interview and Spanish proficiency and physical fitness tests.
But one border state congressman expressed doubts about the value of simply adding more boots to the ground.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that while adding more Border Patrol agents is important, “it’s not a panacea for stopping smuggling and other illegal activities across the border.”
Expanding detention centers and hiring more U.S. attorneys — rather than repatriating illegal immigrants, who often return to the United States — would be more effective, he said.
Before the agency reached its hiring goals, National Guard members under Operation Jumpstart plugged the gap by manning border posts to watch for illegal entrants.
That program ended last summer. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, while still governor of Arizona, asked last year that the program be extended. Cribby said he had no knowledge of her current thinking on the issue.