Border Patrol suffers from boredom in San Diego sector
January 20, 2000
By Correspondent Jim Hill
SAN DIEGO (CNN) -- For 75 years, U.S. Border Patrol agents had fought an uphill battle at spots like Smugglers Canyon, Russian Alley and Spooner's Mesa -- trying to stop a seemingly endless tide of illegal immigrants from Mexico.
But now, here in California's San Diego sector, they find relatively few immigrants coming across the border -- and some agents may be suffering from border boredom.
"Things have changed dramatically. The scenes of yesterday, the chaos of a border out of control have vanished," said patrol Capt. Roy Villareal.
As action slows, agents seek other jobs
In recent years up to 13 percent of the 8,000 Border Patrol agents nationwide have left for new jobs in law enforcement.
Some have been assigned to Douglas, Arizona, where illegal entry is still soaring. Others perform community services such as tutoring.
Patrol still tries to meet mandate for more agents
The Border Patrol still holds recruiting fairs to meet a congressional mandate for more agents.
"We're trying to hire 2,000 agents this year," said patrol recruiter Scott Ross.
However, can the patrol lure recruits who are clearly looking for action?
"We can go out in the desert, hike around the desert looking for tracks or something," said Adam Rostro, a U.S. Marine who attended a recruiting fair.
Operation Gatekeeper stifles illegal entries
In past decades, up to 4,000 illegal immigrants were arrested each day in the San Diego sector.
However, in 1994, Operation Gatekeeper put in an 8-foot wall and added resources such as ground sensors, infrared telescopes and remote-operated video cameras.
Many potential border jumpers gave up trying to scale the wall and avoid the high-tech traps.
Arrests dropped to as few as 20 per day, leaving many agents with a lonely vigil over barren hills.
Low pay doesn't help recruitment effort
Another reason agents are leaving, say union officials, is low pay.
"It costs $270,000 to buy a house in San Diego. Very few agents can make that obligation," said Joseph Dassaro of the National Border Patrol Council.
That makes it harder for the Border Patrol in the San Diego sector to beef up while the action slows down.
Coast Guard facing violent resistance from migrants on high seas
Operation Gatekeeper information page
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