Border and customs officials cite low morale, security gaps


AmajorityofborderandcustomsofficialssurveyedearlierthismonthbytheAmericanFederationofGovernmentEmployeessaidtheyaredemoralizedandnotgettingthefullsupporttheyneedtoprotectthecountry,accordingtoanewreportreleasedMonday.
Sixtypercentofofficialssurveyedsaidtheyhaveveryloworsomewhatlowmorale,while64percentsaidtheyarenotsatisfiedorareonlysomewhatsatisfiedwiththetools,trainingandsupporttheyhavebeengivenbytheHomelandSecurityDepartmenttofightterrorism.Thesurvey,sponsoredbyAFGE,theNationalBorderPatrolCouncilandtheNationalHomelandSecurityCouncil,questioned250BorderPatrolagentsand250CustomsandBorderProtectionofficers.

"Weareheretodaytogiveournation'spolicymakers,lawmakersandallAmericansamessage:Thewaronterrorisindangerofbeinglostattheborders,theairportsandtheseaports,"CharlesShowalter,presidentofAFGE'sNationalHomelandSecurityCouncil,saidinreleasingthesurvey.

ShowaltersaidtheBorderPatrolneedsatleast500moreinspectorsatallportsofentrytobeginaddressingidentifiedshortfalls.TheBorderPatrolbecamepartofCBP--whichnowhasmorethan41,000employees--whentheHomelandSecurityDepartmentwascreatedin2003.

CBPspokeswomanChristianaHalseycalledthesurveymisinformedandbiased.

"ItisnotrepresentativeoftheCBPfront-lineworkforce,"shesaid."It'snotarepresentativesampleoftheoverallworkforce."

ShesaidtheformationofCBPcreatedoneunifiedagencythatprovidesagentsandinspectorswiththenecessarytraining,resourcesandinformation.SheaddedthatCBPhasinitiatedforeignprogramssoborderofficialsarenotthefirstlineofdefense.


"We'renotjustconfrontingthisfromoneangle.Wehaveincreasedthetoolsandtrainingthattheyneed,"sheadded.


T.J.Bonner,presidentofAFGE'sNationalBorderPatrolCouncil,saidhebelievesthatasmanypotentialterroristsareslippingoverthenation'sborderstodayasbeforetheSept.11attacks.

Hesaidthegovernmentcouldreduceillegalimmigrationby98percentifCongressrevampedimmigrationlawsandenforcedsanctionsagainstemployerswhohireillegalworkers.

AslimmajorityofsurveyrespondentsbelievethecountryhasmadesomeprogressintheareaofhomelandsecuritysincetheSept.11attacks,but44percentsaidthenationisnotsafertoday.

AmajorityofthosesurveyedalsospokeagainstkeyDHSpolicies.Forexample,53percentsaidthedepartment's"OneFaceattheBorder"initiativehashadanegativeimpact.ThatinitiativetrainsCBPinspectorstoperformdutiespreviouslydonebyimmigration,customsandagricultureinspectors.Additionally,63percentofthosesurveyedsaidtheyexpectahiringfreezewithinDHStohaveanegativeeffectontheirwork.


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