After an 11-year hiatus, a once-mandatory component of the U.S. Border Patrol academy in Artesia, N.M., is making a logical return along with a much-needed expansion of the overall curriculum.
It's hard to believe that mandatory Spanish-language training for all agents was ever removed from the curriculum, apparently for the sake of expediency to get recruits in and out of the academy. But around 2004, the academy changed the language proficiency format, allowing fluent Spanish speakers to test out of the whittled-down 66-day Spanish course. Non-fluent speakers still had to learn Spanish. That requirement never went away.
But now Assistant Chief Martin Cosio of the academy says the Spanish classes have been expanded to 117 days from the previous 66.
According to Greg Moore, spokesman for CBP, in an email to the Center for Immigration Studies, the old academy format put everyone through Spanish classes incorporated into the old, general five-and-a-half month curriculum. The actual transition date to this new format has yet to be determined, though they have already graduated a pilot session. After graduation, probationary agents are required to take seven- and 10-month proficiency exams in both Spanish and law in order to keep their jobs.
But this adjustment in the academy curriculum solves only part of the problem.
A retired BP agent in Vermont told the Center for Immigration Studies that the Spanish classes were shortened as part of the effort to make it easier to reach the hiring quotas, especially during the hiring rush from 2004 to 2010 when the Border Patrol more than doubled its ranks to 20,700 agents. Spanish proficiency was the least of the vaunted agency's problems, with a rise in corruption cases occurring concurrently. Mitigating corruption remains a goal, but modifying the language requirement compromised the very nature of the line agents who are in daily contact with individuals and large groups of Spanish-speaking individuals, not to mention the various dialects that could be distinguished among Mexicans and Central and South Americans.
The author has spoken to agents of Puerto Rican heritage from the Northeast, for example, who said their Spanish is different in dialect and tempo than that spoken in Mexico. These agents would have been in the generation that "tested out".
One veteran Border Patrol agent said the impact the change had was profound.
He alleges headquarters did this as part of the effort to drastically reduce the amount of time to run a "class" through the USBP Academy — it reduced the time from approximately 20 weeks like it was when this agent went through in 1996/97, to 11 weeks. This brought most of the new academy graduates down to a training level that is offered as the basic level for federal police officers and nowhere near what a federal agent should receive.
The National Border Patrol Council warned headquarters, repeatedly and vociferously, that this was a horrible idea in both theory and practice, and would lead to negative repercussions. The union was assured the academy could produce the same quality agent with 11 weeks of training, as they could with 20. Unit cohesion, esprit de corps, and morale immediately suffered.
"We now have certain leadership (usually retired) admitting to us that we were right all along," the agent said. "Our Academy used to be envied and admired by almost every other law enforcement agencies, both federal, state, and local."
It wasn't unusual to see other federal agencies "poach" Border Patrol academy graduates when the 20-week program was complete. "That stopped when we dropped the academy to 11 weeks — most law enforcement academies in the United States are at least 14 weeks long — it was truly embarrassing," the agent said.
Hopefully, the return of compulsory, expanded Spanish classes and the much-needed expansion of the overall curriculum will help reverse this trend, which is already gaining momentum since Donald Trump took office. Cosio said the more proficient Spanish speakers who would have ordinarily tested out of the class requirement will now be present for peer tutoring. This will allow the non-Spanish speakers to develop the esprit de corps that wavered while also being exposed to various dialects of Spanish. This will be a win-win for cadets.