3,400 Border Patrol Agents on the Chopping Block

By Janice Kephart on October 18, 2012

In an amazing untold story reflecting President Obama's doubletalk on immigration, during Tuesday's town hall-style debate with Mitt Romney he claimed responsibility for putting more Border Patrol agents on our border than ever before. What he did not say is that come January 2, 2013, the president's failure of leadership could result in 3,400 Border Patrol agents losing their jobs. Also on the chopping block are 3,400 Customs and Border Protection inspectors, 932 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents, and 802 ICE deportation and removal officers.

We now learn that budget sequestration — which will slash the federal budget by 9.4 percent in 2013 for discretionary defense appropriations and by 8.2 percent in 2013 for discretionary nondefense appropriations — is actually worse than thought. A law passed 14 months ago required another 1.9 percent reduction in 2013 if the Congressional Super Committee failed to come to agreement on a budget, which is exactly what happened.

Why didn't we know just how bad the cuts would be? Apparently when the Obama administration submitted its report to Congress, it was not required by the Sequestration Transparency Act to add in the extra 1.9 percent. Who knows why. And Congress did not bother to figure out either, until it became clear that Congress and the President had failed to come to any agreement.

So what does the 1.9 percent mean? The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently told Congress the amount now will be $60.6 billion rather than the already debilitating $50 billion cuts previously expected. OMB reported exactly where the cuts would be and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, quickly made its key aspects public in a pleading "dear colleague" letter to fellow members of Congress, asking for cooperation to solve the pending budget disaster.

While the White House is reported to be asking other Democrats and those affected in the defense sector to stay "mum" regarding the cuts until after the election, the fact is that keeping quiet likely will not induce the president to divert from campaigning to force a budget compromise on Congress and further economic collapse on Americans.

To make an obvious point even more obvious, sequestration will enhance and underscore Obama's open border policies. Border agents are already operating in the wake of failed southwest border security policies that have left both civilians and U.S. immigration agents dead on both sides of the border and placed hundreds of guns in drug lords' hands in and out of the United States. President Obama failed to acknowledge either issue in Tuesday's debate with Mitt Romney.

Rep. Dicks' letter presents alarming concerns. Below are the key excerpts from the 15-page letter explaining current sequestration requirements and what they mean for immigration and border security. Note that only border agents dealing with enforcement are cut; no U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) personnel are included because the agency is almost entirely funded by fees paid by immigrants, businesses, etc. USCIS is responsible for implementing President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) administrative amnesty and is necessary to process applications from those illegal aliens seeking to take advantage of the program.

October 9, 2012

Dear Colleague:

My purpose here is to illustrate the consequences of an automatic, across-the-board, uniform percentage reduction prescribed by the Budget Control Act (BCA). This letter will examine the impact of sequestration on the whole range of Federal responsibilities and, I hope, help make the case for Congress to act responsibly by agreeing to a more sensible approach to deficit reduction.

First, let us remember the purpose of sequestration. In an effort to reduce the deficit by $2.4 trillion, the BCA captured the initial $1.2 trillion in cuts almost entirely by capping discretionary appropriations over the ten years from FY 2012 to FY 2021. To get the second installment of $1.2 trillion, Congress established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Concerned, however, that the Congressional Super Committee might require additional motivation to agree on a balanced deficit reduction plan, Republicans and Democrats agreed to sequestration. Sequestration is not so much a back-up plan as an inducement for all sides to reach a compromise. Clearly, any thoughtful, deliberate agreement will be an improvement over the mechanical and indiscriminate nature of sequestration cuts. So the BCA provided plenty of time, more than one full year between the due date for the Joint Committee to propose its recommendations and the imposition of sequestration, to enable Congress and the President to try again.

To be clear: If sequestration takes effect, it is only because it failed to motivate Congressional action as intended. The across-the-board cuts take effect only because the Joint Select Committee failed, and only if, in the ensuing year, Congress and the President fail to reach agreement on a more sensible deficit reduction plan. [emphasis added]

The Sequestration Transparency Act (STA) directed OMB to report on how the Administration interprets the law related to implementing sequestration. On September 14, OMB submitted its report estimating percentage cuts for defense and nondefense appropriations based on assumptions set in the STA:
  • A reduction of 9.4 percent in 2013 for discretionary defense (function 050) appropriations for each non-exempt item
  • A reduction of 8.2 percent in 2013 on discretionary nondefense appropriations
OMB, in accordance with the STA, looked at only one aspect of sequestration. As another motivation to act, the BCA also set up a second, separate sequestration to enforce the firewall between security and non-security appropriations. Because the Joint Committee failed, a new and lower defense firewall goes into effect, requiring an additional cut in defense spending. Based on levels in the agreed upon continuing resolution for FY 2013, we estimate:
  • An additional reduction of 1.9 percent in 2013 only for discretionary defense (function 050) accounts

If Congress fails to replace sequestration with a responsible, long-term deficit reduction plan, Moody's has warned they will downgrade America's credit rating and the Congressional Budget Office notes they will overturn their forecast of steady growth for 2013, predicting another recession with a 9.1 percent unemployment rate. CRS estimates that sequestration alone would result in 1.4 million jobs lost in the same year.


Homeland Security
Required reductions of budgetary resources for the Department of Homeland Security will roll back significant progress in securing our Nation's borders, increase wait times at our Nation's land ports of entry and airports, impact aviation and maritime safety and security, leave critical infrastructure vulnerable to attacks, hamper disaster response time, and eliminate cyber security infrastructure that has been developed in recent years.

Since the sequester would not be ordered under the BCA until January, federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security would be forced to compensate for the first quarter of spending with even greater budget cuts through the rest of the year.

Over 24,500 jobs could be lost to achieve reduced funding levels including:
  • 3,400 Border Patrol agents — a reduction in Border Patrol agents to below FY 2009 levels, from an anticipated 21,370 agents to 17,970; a cut of this magnitude would significantly impact progress along the Southwest Border. DHS would not be able to maintain the minimum number of 21,370 agents set by P.L. 112-74.
  • 3,400 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers — a reduction in CBP Officers to below FY 2007 on-board levels, from an anticipated 21,775 Officers to 18,375; this reduction will significantly increase wait times at our Nation's land ports of entry.
  • 932 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agents – a decrease of this magnitude would significantly impact efforts to investigate crimes involving counter-proliferation, terrorism, and transnational threats.
  • 802 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operation positions – These cuts to on-board levels will significantly roll back progress that has resulted in record-high removals of illegal criminal aliens this past year.

In order to sustain frontline operations in recent years while facing declining budgets, DHS has already taken significant reductions to administrative and mission support functions over the past several years. Over $3 billion in cost avoidances and savings have been achieved to date, which leaves little else to cut without directly impacting frontline operations.

Where possible, DHS and its Components would attempt to avoid cutting frontline positions. However, as stated by OMB in its report to Congress, "No amount of planning can mitigate the effect of these cuts."