Bor­der Pa­trol Coun­cil cites con­cerns with bases for agents

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JERRY SEPER

Re­mote for­ward op­er­at­ing bases set up in rugged ar­eas of the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der to help U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol agents bet­ter pro­tect Amer­ica against armed drug and alien smug­glers are plagued with crit­i­cal safety, se­cu­rity and san­i­tary con­cerns that place the lives of agents us­ing them in jeop­ardy, says the Na­tional Bor­der Pa­trol Coun­cil (NBPC).

NBPC Pres­i­dent Ge­orge McCub­bin III, a 25-year Bor­der Pa­trol vet­eran agent, said the bases — built on a de­ploy­ment con­cept de­vel­oped by the U.S. mil­i­tary in Afghanistan — are “an enor­mous waste of tax­payer money” and pose “crit­i­cal safety and se­cu­rity con­cerns that must be ad­dressed” be­fore work be­gins on two more sites now sched­uled to be set up at a cost of $6 mil­lion.

Mr. McCub­bin told The Wash­ing­ton Times that bases lo­cated in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of the bor­der un­nec­es­sar­ily ex­pose agents to risks, in­clud­ing at­tacks from drug car­tels now at war in Mex­ico. He said the 10 ex­ist­ing bases and camps should be closed im­me­di­ately un­til safety and se­cu­rity is­sues are prop­erly ad­dressed.

“The mil­i­tary would never con­sider op­er­at­ing a for­ward op­er­at­ing base with the se­cu­rity and safety is­sues that cur­rently ex­ist in the FOBs op­er­ated by the Bor­der Pa­trol,” Mr. McCub­bin said. “Un­like the Bor­der Pa­trol com­mand, the mil­i­tary com­mand has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge in con­struct­ing and se­cur­ing an FOB. More­over, pro­tect­ing the troops is a pri­or­ity for the mil­i­tary com­mand.”

The NBPC, which rep­re­sents all 17,500 non-su­per­vi­sory Bor­der Pa­trol agents, said in a re­port this month to its mem­bers that af­ter con­sult­ing with of­fi­cials at the Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the union was “shocked” to learn the bases “do not even meet the ba­sic stan­dards es­tab­lished for tem­po­rary mi­grant worker camps.”

“If the agency was se­ri­ous about these and they hon­estly were look­ing out for their agents in the field, then they would prop­erly stand these FOBs up,” said Mr. McCub­bin. He said the agency should be re­quired to build the bases in ac­cor­dance with reg­u­la­tions de­signed for per­ma­nent gov­ern­ment hous­ing and Bor­der Pa­trol sta­tions, not those de­signed for tem­po­rary mi­grant worker camps.

“The Bor­der Pa­trol should be forced to cease op­er­a­tions at all FOBs un­til the Bor­der Pa­trol prop­erly ad­dresses the se­ri­ous safety and se­cu­rity is­sues that cur­rently ex­ist at the FOBs,” he said, warn­ing that “the un­safe con­di­tions that ex­ist” could lead to an agent’s death.

U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion (CBP) spokes­woman Kerry P. Rogers said in an emailed state­ment the for­ward op­er­at­ing bases were es­tab­lished in early 2004 in Tuc­son, Ariz., and, more re­cently, in El Paso, Texas, and Yuma , Ariz.

She said they ad­dress “re­mote cross­ing points that have, his­tor­i­cally, been dif­fi­cult for agents to pa­trol” due to the vast dis­tances and time in­volved to ac­cess the ar­eas and to re­duce the time it takes be­tween de­tect­ing and re­solv­ing il­le­gal en­tries.

All the bases, she said, are manned at all times, gen­er­ally on a vol­un­teer ba­sis, and the agents per­form a full range of line watch op­er­a­tions. She said all-ter­rain ve­hi­cles and horse pa­trol units are de­ployed and ro­tated be­tween camps, as trends dic­tate in the field.

“While FOB con­struc­tion can vary from lo­ca­tion to lo­ca­tion, hous­ing gen­er­ally ranges from trail­ers to semi-per­ma­nent build­ings,” she said. “Re­gard­less of the size or lo­ca­tion of the camp, agents are pro­vided with sleep­ing quar­ters, kitchens, grills, bath­rooms, elec­tric­ity, heat and air con­di­tion­ing.”

Ms. Rogers did not ad­dress ques­tions emailed to her re­gard­ing NBPC con­cerns over se­cu­rity, safety and san­i­tary con­di­tions.

There are seven per­ma­nent bases along the South­west bor­der and last year’s $600 mil­lion in bor­der-se­cu­rity sup­ple­men­tal money ap­proved by Congress in­cluded $6 mil­lion for two new bases in Ajo and Dou­glas, Ariz. They will sup­port 32 agents, ad­min­is­tra­tive and liv­ing quar­ters, de­ten­tion and horse fa­cil­i­ties, cov­ered ATV park­ing, fenc­ing, gates, light­ing and se­cu­rity sys­tems, and a he­li­pad.

But the NBPC said that while mod­eled af­ter the mil­i­tary for­ward bases, the Bor­der Pa­trol “clearly does not ap­pear to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of pro­vid­ing agents with the ap­pro­pri­ate fa­cil­i­ties, equip­ment, re­sources to main­tain op­er­a­tional se­cu­rity of an FOB.”

Ac­cord­ing to the NBPC, the agency vi­o­lated sev­eral fed­eral reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing the con­struc­tion and de­sign of the bases, in­clud­ing fail­ure to pro­vide ad­e­quate sleep­ing rooms, beds, cots or bunks and suit­able stor­age fa­cil­i­ties for cloth­ing and per­sonal ar­ti­cles. The union also said the liv­ing quar­ters had im­prop­erly sized win­dows, an in­ad­e­quate sup­ply of hot and cold run­ning wa­ter, and lacked fly-tight, ro­dent-tight, im­per­vi­ous, clean­able or sin­gle-ser­vice con­tain­ers for the stor­age of garbage.

The NBPC re­port said the bases also lacked in­sect and ro­dent con­trol and did not have ad­e­quate first aid fa­cil­i­ties for the emer­gency treat­ment of in­jured per­sons.

“Mul­ti­ple agents have ex­pe­ri­enced var­i­ous ill­nesses, to in­clude re­s­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions while as­signed to the un­san­i­tary, sub­stan­dard liv­ing con­di­tions pro­vided at the FOBs,” the NBPC said. “This is an in­sult to the men and women who are as­signed to these FOBs.”

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