Agents' union rep: Plan 'looks good in D.C.'

Posted Jan 22, 2015, 2:03 pm

Dylan Smith

Rep. Martha McSally added provisions to a border bill in Congress that would direct the Border Patrol to "patrol as close to the physical land border as possible" — a move the BP union local says "looks good in D.C." but not from where they stand.

McSally's amendment was included in a border enforcement measure introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) that's headed for a full House vote next week.

McSally's addition would require the Border Patrol to "deploy the maximum practicable number" of agents to forward operating bases near the border, and "patrol as close to the physical land border as possible, consistent with the accessibility to such areas."

Border agents on the ground don't see eye-to-eye with the freshman Republican.

"I can see that logic working if you've never worked the border," said Art Del Cueto, president of Local 1544 of the National Border Patrol Council, the union for border agents.

"It looks good in D.C. It looks good on paper," Del Cueto said Thursday.

"But I liken it to a football game," he said. "If you put your entire defense on the line of scrimmage, what's about to happen when they do a pass play?"

"And this isn't a game; this is the security of our country," said Del Cueto, who contended that no matter how much manpower is deployed on the border, "something will always slip by us. They'll go around. What do you do then?"

McSally said "our current 'defense in depth' strategy just isn't working."

"It puts the lives of Southern Arizonans at risk, while allowing traffickers and cartels to enter and move through our communities," she said in a news release from her office. "I've had a lot of conversations with our border residents, and re-focusing our strategy at the border is a top priority I've heard."

"By directing resources actually at the border, adding manpower to forward operating bases in remote areas, and taking advantage of our airborne assets, my amendment helps ensure our residents are kept safe and illegal activity is kept out," McSally said.

McSally's amendment would also require the Border Security Verification Commission, set up by other provisions of the bill under consideration, to consult with ranchers near the border.

McSally "spent her first two weekends in office meeting with ranchers, border residents, and Customs and Border Protection agents to gain their insights to direct a better strategy for Southern Arizona," her release said.

Del Cueto said that McSally hasn't met with BP agents.

"She hasn't met with the union. We've made phone calls to her people ... no response," he said.

The agents' union has opposed expanding deployments to forward operating bases, which are set up in remote areas.

FOB deployments effectively require agents to spend long periods of unpaid time at the bases between shifts, Del Cueto said.

"A lot of them spend more time at camp than with their families," he said. "If they were to open up overtime, or offer stand-by pay, that'd be another story."

The BP union local endorsed McSally's predecessor, Ron Barber, as he sought re-election last year.

A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and others. Sen. John McCain signed on as a co-sponsor of that measure.

Other provisions of the House bill being co-signed by McSally would put fewer restrictions on BP patrols in environmentally protected areas, fund a permanent National Guard presence on the border, expand fines on people caught crossing the border illegally, and transfer military equipment to border agencies.