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Border agencies increase recruitment efforts

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New Mexico border issues cover many concerns: human trafficking, illegal drugs and other criminal activity, invasive pests and plants, illegal entries, and asylum requests.

Regardless of political persuasion, the New Mexico congressional delegation and most of those challenging them for their seats have been on record saying that part of what needs to be done includes boosting border security and helping the agencies working at ports of entries.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-Las Cruces, in Roswell on Wednesday, said she has supported several bipartisan solutions for border issues, including investing in the “northern triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to stabilize their economies and lower the number of people fleeing due to poverty; increasing the number of immigrant judges and asylum officers who can help process entry requests; and increased funding for border and customs officers.

“We have funded more positions for border patrol and customs than we can fill, so how do we support getting those positions on line?” Torres Small asked.

Recruiters for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Border Patrol from the El Paso area — but with responsibility for recruitment efforts throughout New Mexico — were at the New Mexico Military Institute Wednesday. They said the number of applications are up this year, but acknowledged that there is still a need to fill many positions as the need increases and as people retire or leave the agencies, which are now part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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The Border Patrol in New Mexico hires only for the U.S. southern border. Customs and Border Protection handles all ports of entries, including airports, seaports and land entries.

The agencies are ratcheting up their recruitment efforts, and they are taking a page from the military in going to campuses to find prospective recruits.

Military schools, academies and service branches are a top focus for their efforts, said Adriana Carranza, a Customs and Border Protection recruiter with a master’s degree in criminal justice. Carranza was among several agents talking to NMMI cadets and the public at two sessions, which provided an overview of careers and what was described as a year-long application process.

“The goal is to have them finish school. The goal is not to pull them from their studies,” she said. “That is something that we have been stressing pretty heavily, that the bachelor’s degree is important.”

She explained that, while a college degree is not necessary for entry-level hiring, applicants not only earn more but have a more secure future with one, should they decide to leave the agencies.

The discussion with attendees covered pay and benefits, training at the agencies’ academies (Border Patrol in Artesia and CBP in Brunswick, Georgia), the opportunity for assignments abroad, the wide variety of assignments available with proper training — from air enforcement agent to horse patrol officer to agricultural specialists to search and rescue and emergency response. But topics also included some of the more difficult aspects of the law enforcement roles: unusual and long working hours, assignments in rural areas, stressful and difficult working conditions, and mental health challenges.

“The first time that I encountered a 4-year-old boy being smuggled into this country for reasons other than being with family, I told my dad, ‘I can’t do this,’” Carranza said.

She told people that the agency recognizes that mental stress can take a toll and have staff who work around the clock on employee assistance. Some of the programs offered include counseling, morale and resiliency support efforts, exercise to reduce stress, peer support, time off and chaplains of various faiths.

Although border issues can sometimes put the work in a controversial light, Carranza said that isn’t affecting recruitment.

“It hasn’t prevented people from applying and it hasn’t swayed them from applying,” she said. “I think the applicants that we get are typically interested in federal law enforcement. Do they have concerns over the perception of the media and the public? Sure, but I think that is typical of a lot of federal agencies or law enforcement agencies. But the applicants are typically very convinced that they want to do federal law enforcement in general.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.