By Amanda J. Crawford
PHOENIX, Ariz. — Illegal immigration, drug smuggling and border crime may rise as U.S. spending cuts reduce hours for Border Patrol agents, their union said Tuesday.
The officers may have to take as many as 14 days of unpaid time off, or furloughs, and see their typical work hours cut to 8 from 10 as overtime is scaled back by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, representing 17,000 non-supervisory agents.
“The smuggling organizations are keenly aware of what our operational capabilities are,” said Moran, who’s based in San Diego. “Once they see that we don’t have the manpower we had out on the border previously, they will take advantage.”
Across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration are forcing government agencies to reduce spending. The government must trim $85 billion for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, distributed evenly between defense and non- defense portions of the budget.
Customs and Border Protection funding is expected to be reduced by more than $500 million, according to a March 1 report by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose department includes the Border Patrol, told Congress last month the department will have to shrink hours equivalent to the salaries of 5,000 Border Patrol agents and 2,750 Customs and Border Protection officers beginning April 1.
The Customs and Border Protection agency is trying to reduce its budget in a way that is “least disruptive to the facilitation of lawful travel and trade and our employees, while not compromising our security mission,” said Jenny Burke, a Washington-based spokeswoman.
“Because CBP is reducing, but not absolutely eliminating overtime pay, and because the length of the sequestration is unknown, it is difficult to project the impact of the reductions,” Burke said by e-mail.