Border Patrol braces for budget cuts
Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Port Angeles’ is one of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection stations across the nation that will impose budget-cutting measures due to the recent sequester in Washington, D.C.
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Reductions nationwide also will be imposed on Border Patrol overtime beginning April 7 in response to federal budget cuts.
In addition, 60,000 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, employees nationwide, including the 42 Border Patrol agents who cover Clallam and Jefferson counties from their new Port Angeles headquarters, received furlough notices last week that will begin taking effect April 21 and continue through the end of the fiscal year in September.
Days without pay
The maximum 14 days without pay also will affect two other CBP agencies that operate out of Port Angeles: the Office of Air and Marine, which patrols the international border in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Office of Field Operations, which screens international travelers at the port of entry off Railroad Avenue.
The measures are part of CBP's efforts to address its own $512 million portion of $85 billion in overall federal budget reductions known as sequestration.
David V. Aguilar, deputy commissioner of CPB, also said last week that a hiring freeze will be implemented and travel and training curtailed.
Said Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher to agents in a memo Thursday: “The federally mandated sequester will touch all aspects of the U.S. Border Patrol.”
Rian Anderson, district manager for the Black Ball Ferry Line, which operates the Coho between Port Angeles and Victoria, said Friday he has not noticed any impact from the loss of overtime for field operations employees.
“How much it will affect us is to be seen,” Anderson said.
CBP spokeswoman Jenny Burke said the cost-cutting measures will increase wait times at ports of entry and reduce staffing between land ports of entry.
“Because the length of sequestration as well as funding levels through the end of the fiscal year [Sept. 30] are unknown at this time, it is difficult to project the impact of the reductions on individual employees or job occupations,” she said in a statement.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents CBP's port-of-entry agents, said Coho ferry passengers likely will feel the overtime reduction during tourist season.
“While the effects at Port Angeles have not been substantial in the first week after sequestration, the likelihood is that the failure of Congress to act to avoid sequestration, and its accompanying furloughs, will lead to delays and congestion during the summer travel season beginning in May when ferry arrivals ramp up considerably,” she said in an email.
“Cuts to overtime will hamper the port's ability to handle peak periods.”
The impact on the Office of Air and Marine was unclear as of Friday.
As of Friday, 42 Border Patrol agents worked out of their new $11.9 million headquarters east of downtown, covering the North Olympic Peninsula.
“We've got a mission to do, and we're going to do it,” Jay Cumbow, agent-in-charge of the Port Angeles contingent, said Friday during an interview at the facility.
“I won't talk about how we will adjust or what our tactics are to achieve our mission.
“It's sufficient to say that we are going to keep doing our job.”
CBP must cut a total of $512 million to abide by the federal government's overall mandate of $85 billion in budget reductions, according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.
The National Border Patrol Council represents non-managerial Border Patrol employees.
Union spokesman Shawn Moran predicted more illegal crossings and more drug smuggling will emanate from the Canadian border.
“There will be fewer patrols,” Moran said Friday.
“Border Patrol agents will be trying to cover more area than they normally would.
“You'll have increased response times.”
Border Patrol agents, who earn between $27,431 and $60,274 annually, are paid straight time for overtime, not time-and-a-half, and work five 10-hour days, Moran said.
“Effectively, we are going to see less Border Patrol agents out there.”
The number of agents at the Port Angeles station has grown more than tenfold, from four in 2006 to the present 42.
The new headquarters, which opened in September, can house up to 50 agents. It now also houses the offices of the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team, or OPNET, which operates in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Former Port Angeles Border Patrol Agent Christian Sanchez drew national attention to the Peninsula in 2012 over the issue of Border Patrol overtime.
He said he was retaliated against by the Border Patrol and was refused a request for transfer after he would not accept overtime pay.
Sanchez had claimed before the Congressional Transparency Caucus that he was being given “assignments with nothing to do.”
He filed a whistleblower claim in January with the federal government, reached a settlement in September and subsequently was transferred to the agency's southwest region.
Moran said Sanchez's claim was related to the Border Patrol being restricted in activities such as conducting farm and ranch checks for illegal immigrants, doing routine patrols at transportation hubs and providing language assistance to local law enforcement agencies.
Ban on patrol translators
A May 1 civil rights complaint by the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security spurred the ban on Border Patrol translators, which was imposed in December.
“They are chipping away slowly but surely as to every part of the job that we can do,” Moran said.
Jim Buckley of Port Townsend, who runs the website www.bpfree.org, which stands for Border Patrol Free, saw the sequester cuts in a positive light.
Buckley is “all for” a reduction of Border Patrol activities on the Peninsula, he said.
“I wish they would just go home and stop.
“I don't mean that personally,” he added. “But we don't need more Border Patrol hanging around without anything to do.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: March 09. 2013 5:18PM