August 29, 2008

Border Patrol works on retaining agents

Posted: Aug 28, 2008 07:24 PM CDT

By ABC-7 Reporter/Anchor Marissa Monroy

EL PASO, Texas -- "Now hiring!" That's what the sign says in front of El Paso's Border Patrol headquarters.

The reality of working on the border has created an environment that not all agents get used to and for new hires that must work on the Mexican border, more than 10 percent end up leaving the agency.

President George Bush's target of 18,000 agents by the end of the year, double the number of agents from eight years ago. Here in El Paso, there are about 2500 agents that patrol the U.S.-Mexican border.

"For people that enter the Border Patrol, in the first two years, the attrition rate is about 11 percent," Border Patrol agent Joe Romero said. After two years it drops to three percent."

Officials say El Paso's numbers match national trends, and these rates are even a little high. But that doesn't mean they aren't offering incentives to retain agents. A border patrol agent's salary starts at more than $36,000 a year, and with overtime, agents can increase that number. After three years, that figure climbs to about $70,000 a year.

"We're having a high quality agent come out of the agency," Romero said.

The Government Accountability Office estimates that taxpayers pay $14,700 for each trained at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, N.M. During this time, agents are trained in immigration, nationality and anti-terrorism law. The 50-day training program is extended an additional 45 days if an officer does not know how to speak Spanish. The extra days are spent immersed in Spanish-language classes.

Officials are beginning to look outside of the Southwest for new recruits as well. More and more, the agency is holding job fairs in the Midwest and as far away as Hawaii.

For all new recruits, they are required to spend the first two years along the Mexican border. After the two-year probationary period, agents can apply to work along the Canadian border or in Washington D.C. But those jobs, officials say, can be very competitive.

Still Agent Romero says he doesn't regret sticking with the Border Patrol program.

"I guarantee there's something for everyone here."

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