"This proposal is a realistic and measured approach that will finally solve one of the most difficult problems facing our broken immigration system."
— Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nevada), June 21, 2013
The Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate for the immigration bill calculates that adding 3,500 Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents as proposed in the current version of the legislation would exceed $600 million annually – that’s around $171,400 per agent per year. Assuming Border Patrol agents cost about the same as all CBP officers, increasing the number of agents by 20,000, as is proposed in the Corker-Hoeven amendment, would cost over $3.4 billion a year. Over the next decade, this increase would amount to over $34 billion. This yearly cost for additional agents is close to the Border Patrol’s current annual budget and far exceeds the $6 billion the CBO calculated for the 10-year cost of a much smaller staff increase.
In a time of sequester, where $85 billion in automatic budget cuts are dramatically reducing afterschool programs, food pantries, and meal programs for the sick and elderly; eliminating thousands of jobs for teachers and emergency response personnel; and even limiting the Border Patrol’s capacity to deploy agents for road patrols, we question whether such a dramatic increase in border security spending, with questionable endgame results, is a good use of the U.S. budget.
"This is border security on steroids."
The Corker amendment would roughly double the size of U.S. Border Patrol to about 40,000 members. Is that a wise use of funds?
Border Patrol has already doubled in size [PDF] since 2005, and quintupled in size since 2003. There were 9,891 agents stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2005; by the end of 2012 there were 18,516.
Meanwhile, border crossings are way down. In 2000, Border Patrol agents apprehended [PDF] 1,643,679 people near the U.S.-Mexico border. By last year, that number had dropped to 356,873.
As the agency grew and border-crossers dropped, the number of “apprehensions per agent” has fallen to historic lows. In 2000 each Border Patrol agent at the U.S.-Mexico border apprehended an average of 192 border-crossers. By 2012 the average was 19 apprehensions per agent.
Given this remarkable drop, is not clear how much more a further doubling of Border Patrol would achieve. Dropping the ratio to 10 apprehensions per agent per year would be a small gain for such a great expense.
That expense would be immense. If we very conservatively estimate the cost of maintaining a Border Patrol officer (salary, benefits, training, vehicles, fuel, uniforms, etc.) at US$100,000 per year, then 20,000 new agents would cost the U.S. Treasury US$2 billion per year. (The agency’s current budget [PDF] is about US$3.5 billion.)
An additional US$2 billion per year is far more money than the current Senate immigration reform bill contemplates spending. S.744 foresees up to US$6.5 billion total, to be spent over five-plus years, in new border security funds.
Given these apprehension and staffing trends, doubling Border Patrol does not appear to be the most efficient use of an additional US$2 billion per year.
“For people who are concerned about border security, once they see what’s in this bill, it’s almost overkill,” Sen. Corker said on June 20. We agree with that, except for the “almost.”