President proposes cutting border patrol

by Erin Kelly – Feb. 1, 2010 03:17 PM
Republic Washington Bureau
via AZ Central

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s proposed 2011 budget would cut the border patrol by 180 agents and trim spending on a “virtual fence” along the nation’s Southwest border.

Homeland security officials confirmed the proposed cuts Monday during a budget briefing for reporters. They said no border patrol agents would lose their jobs. Instead, the positions would be cut through attrition as agents retire or leave.

Remaining agents would be better paid as part of a plan to increase the salaries of experienced frontline officers.

Senior Obama administration officials said they do not expect the proposed cuts to reduce the effectiveness of the border patrol, which has doubled in size during the past five years to more than 20,000 agents.

The reduction is part of an effort by the White House to trim the federal budget, but it is expected to meet resistance from Congress, which must approve the budget, in an election year.

The president’s proposed budget also would slash funding by nearly $226 million for an electronic “virtual fence” system along the border. The virtual fence, known as “SBInet,” is made up of cameras, radar and sensors placed on towers.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last month ordered a reassessment of the $8 billion program after continuing delays in constructing the system near the Arizona border with Mexico.

While cutting some border programs, the administration is seeking an additional $10 million to create Border Enforcement Security Task Forces in Honolulu, San Francisco, and Massena, N.Y. These multi-agency teams work to identify and stop criminal organizations that transport drugs and other contraband across U.S. borders.

The administration also is seeking more than $103 million to improve the Internet-based E-Verify system that allows employers to check whether job applicants are in the United States legally and are eligible to work. The goal is to improve fraud detection and make the system easier and more reliable to use, homeland security officials said.

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