The cuts follow the release last week of hundreds of immigrant detainees by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, attributed to sequestration. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a critic of President Obama’s administration on border issues, said the releases were “payback” to her state for its attempts to curb illegal immigration, such as the 2010 crackdown she signed.
The governor’s spokesman, Matthew Benson, said the Border Patrol reductions would be “outrageous” and could put Arizonans at risk.
“The White House approach to sequestration seems to be to create as much pain and public panic as possible,” Benson said in a telephone interview. “Any cut that impacts public safety should be a last resort.”
Joe Arpaio, elected to his sixth term as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest, as he faced a federal civil- rights lawsuit over immigration-related arrests, criticized the planned reduction.
“You shouldn’t take away resources when you still have a problem,” Arpaio, 80, said Tuesday in an interview. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The furloughs and loss of overtime are equivalent to a 35 percent pay cut for Border Patrol agents, David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement. The group is the parent union of the border patrol council.
“Agents will be instructed to stop working at the moment their straight shift ends,” Cox said. “Good news for criminals and others who would enter our country illegally; but very bad news for Americans who rely on the courage and devotion of Border Patrol agents who risk their lives every day to keep drugs and guns and gangs outside our borders.”
The cuts probably won’t dramatically increase crime or significantly compromise border security, said Chris Wilson, an associate with the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, a Washington-based research group. The number of Border Patrol agents has doubled in the last decade, and illegal activity along the border between the ports of entry has fallen.
Border Patrol is “bigger than they’ve ever been and crossings are lower than they’ve ever been,” Wilson said in a telephone interview. The proposed cuts “would not put us at staffing levels unlike what we had in recent years and, therefore, would not put us at a point that we would have major security concerns as a result.”