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US Border Agents say New Intelligence Bill Will Slow Illegal Immigration

The new intelligence overhaul bill passed by the U.S. Congress includes provisions to beef up border protection, including authorization of a near doubling of Border Patrol agents in the coming years. But representatives of the agents in the field say more action is urgently needed to deal with the overwhelming numbers of illegal immigrants.

The new intelligence bill authorizes a gradual increase in Border Patrol agents and immigration enforcement agents, by 2000 agents a year, starting in the federal fiscal year 2006, which begins in October of next year. The total number added would be ten thousand by the year 2010.

There are currently 11,200 Border Patrol agents and 5,500 immigration agents in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is under the Homeland Security Department. The intelligence bill also proposes expansion of facilities for holding illegal immigrants. None of these measures will take effect, however, until Congress provides funding for them.

Agents in the field say even if Congress follows through, it will not help much unless there is a new effort to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. T.J. Bonner, President of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing Border Patrol agents, said the men and women who guard the borders are angered by the lack of effective employer sanctions. "It is more than mild frustration. It is extreme frustration and the rank-and-file Border Patrol agents are, quite frankly, demoralized," he said.

He says that even though the deployment of new technology like unmanned surveillance drones and motion detectors along the Mexican border has helped, Border Patrol agents are still only able to apprehend about 30 percent of the people who cross illegally. He says putting more personnel on the border is not likely to increase that percentage by much as long as immigrants know there are jobs waiting for them on the other side. "With 10,000 more agents, a doubling of our work force, we will not magically be able to intercept an additional two-to-three million people, who are getting by us every year now," he said.

Supporters of the intelligence bill, however, say the additional agents and other measures included in the legislation should make a significant contribution to securing the borders. Spokesmen for the Customs and Border Protection Bureau say they cannot comment on the bill until it has been signed by the president.

Immigration and border protection are issues that are expected to be addressed during the first part of the new session of Congress early next year. House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, says he has been assured by House leaders that his proposals to stem the flow of illegal aliens, including a provision to prevent them from obtaining a driver's license, will be included in the first bill brought before the chamber early next year. But there is likely to be a fight over passage of such measures, which are opposed by some prominent Hispanic groups and by various immigrant advocate groups.