Some in President Donald Trump’s administration are reportedly looking at loosening security rules regarding the hiring of Border Patrol agents in order to bring on board enough to meet current demands, a five-page internal memo shows.
Foreign Policy magazine, citing a look at the messaging as well as the statements from five current and former officials with the Department of Homeland Security, reported the development.
Specifically, Customs and Border Protection has petitioned for a relaxation of standards tied to polygraph mandates for new job candidates. The polygraph tests are currently mandated by Congress.
CBP also would like to see some leeway with the entrance exams and background checks that are part and parcel of the hiring process, Foreign Policy reported.
The request for loosened standards comes as the Trump administration has announced plans to hire several thousand more border patrol agents in the coming months, boosting the current 19,627 manpower level to around 26,370.
A former DHS official said existing hiring practices are “insanely cumbersome,” particularly the part requiring all incoming candidates to pass a strict polygraph test. The official told Foreign Policy the hiring requirements are so onerous they even surpass those in other DHS divisions, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as for other law enforcement positions around the nation.
The chances for change remain slight, however.
“We do face headwinds,” said CBP acting commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who wrote the five-page memo advising of the need for changes in hiring practices. “[DHS] Secretary [John] Kelly has made it absolutely clear we are not going to lower standards to speed up our hiring.”
According to the memo, the quota of hiring affixed for CPB by Trump will take at least five years to fulfill, given the existing lengthy application process. It will also cost taxpayers about $2.2 billion, McAleenan said.
“The taxpayers demonstrated in the November election very clearly that border security is a very important issue for them,” he said, to Foreign Policy. “The investments are justified to protect our communities.”
Kelly’s not the only one resistant to hiring standard changes.
Both former and current DHS officials say the Border Patrol branch is particularly sensitive for America’s security, and current stringent standards are necessary to ensure those who serve as the first level of gate guards for U.S. borders aren’t vulnerable to corruption.
For instance, as Foreign Policy noted: “CBP is uniquely targeted by drug-trafficking and other transnational organizations seeking out agents they can bribe – with money or sexual favors – to allow drugs, undocumented immigrants or other contraband across the U.S.-Mexico border.”
A lowering of standards now might not compromise America’s security, said Jay Ahern, a deputy CBP commissioner who served under former president George W. Bush. But it’s a slippery slope just the same, he added.
“If you start lowering standards, the organization pays for it for the next decade, two, or three,” Ahern said, in Foreign Policy.