- As the crisis on the US-Mexico border reached a fever pitch in April, Business Insider senior video correspondent Graham Flanagan spent four days inside the US Border Patrol Academy at Artesia, New Mexico, around 200 miles north of the US-Mexico border.
- The Border Patrol has been at the center of intense scrutiny over the squalid conditions thousands of migrants have experienced in its detention centres.
- President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration led to a rapid shift in the Border Patrol’s role, from traditional law enforcement duties to detaining, processing and tending to migrant families and their children.
- Business Insider examined if the agency had revamped its training program for recruits amid an unprecedented surge of Central American families crossing the southwest border.
- Business Insider did not witness any instruction at the Academy to prepare trainees to work in detention centres or care for migrant children, other than Spanish language training.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
As the crisis on the US-Mexico border reached a fever pitch in April, Business Insider senior video correspondent Graham Flanagan spent four days inside the US Border Patrol Academy at Artesia, New Mexico, around 200 miles north of the US-Mexico border.
The Border Patrol has been at the center of intense scrutiny over the squalid conditions thousands of migrants have experienced in its detention centres. The Department of Homeland Security watchdog earlier this month warned of filthy, overcrowded conditions in several Border Patrol facilities in Texas where adult migrants and children were going without hot food and showers.
Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan has defended conditions at the detention facilities as humane, calling reports on horrific conditions “unsubstantiated,” but acknowledging “the extraordinarily challenging situation.”
President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration led to a rapid shift in the Border Patrol’s role: from traditional law enforcement duties to detaining, processing and tending to migrant families and their children. Business Insider examined if the agency had revamped its training program for recruits amid an unprecedented surge of Central American families crossing the southwest border.
During our four days there, we did not see specific instruction at the academy to prepare trainees to work at detention centres or tend to migrants, other than an extensive language course in Spanish. It reflects a new reality for an agency reaching the breaking point: Its Academy is not training Border Patrol agents for the job the White House is asking them to do.
In a statement, a United States Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said, “The Border Patrol Academy does not conduct training related to detention officer duties … Once a trainee graduates and arrives at their station, depending on their geographical location, it now becomes the duty and responsibility of their station to further train the new agent on local policies and procedures.”
Entering the Border Patrol Academy
The Border Patrol Academy is one of the toughest law enforcement academies in the nation. The grounds stretch over 3,000 acres, and scores of recruits endure six months of basic training to become Border Patrol agents. Each year, around 1,000 trainees graduate from the academy. Most are posted in the rugged and sometimes broiling terrain of the southwest border.
Academy training begins with a period of what instructors call “stress inoculation” where recruits fresh off the bus are screamed at to bolster their decision-making abilities under stress.
“From day one, our goal is to make sure that they are prepared to handle anything that they may encounter in the field, no matter what obstacle is thrown at them,” says Border Patrol Academy Chief Dan M. Harris, Jr.
The curriculum amounts to 940 hours of rigorous instruction in physical fitness, immigration law, firearms use, and driving, among other areas. The sessions include simulations where Border Patrol instructors play out a range of possible real-life scenarios, including stopping armed drug smugglers or detaining people crossing the border illegally.
Trainees spend the single largest portion of their curriculum learning Spanish to better prepare them to communicate with the people they encounter in the field. But it represents less than 20% of their total training, most of which is spent learning various law enforcement techniques.
Business Insider did not see any training at the academy specifically designed to prepare trainees to work in detention centres or care for migrant children, other than Spanish language training.
When asked if there were future plans to adapt training based on reports from the detention centres, the CBP spokesperson did not directly respond.
The Academy’s law enforcement training does include “first aid and basic lifesaving measures,” the CBP spokesperson said. It also recently implemented a program called “Medical Emergency Decision Scenario,” or MEDS, where agents are trained to assess the basic health of detained migrants and prevent deaths while they are in federal custody.
The academy’s curriculum was last updated in late 2017. It was extended from three months to six to strengthen the agents’ training, particularly in how to work safely in a dangerous environment and maintain professional composure in adversity.
But the curriculum’s added emphasis on navigating life-threatening situations doesn’t take into account the evolving nature of an agent’s daily job. When we spoke to then-CBP commissioner John Sanders in April, he told us that around 40% of agents’ time is spent on duties other than law enforcement. Sanders stepped down in July.
The extensive challenges facing the Border Patrol
Established in 1924, the Border Patrol is made up of 19,000 agents, over half of whom are Hispanic. But its still over 2,000 agents short of the congressionally-mandated level of 21,370 – even as Trump signed an executive order in January 2017 to hire 5,000 Border Patrol agents to clamp down on illegal immigration.
In addition, only five per cent of the Border Patrol’s workforce is female, the largest gender gap of any federal government agency.
The agency’s longstanding issues in training and retaining its employees are also compounded by allegations over the past decade of some agents’ ties to drug cartels, abuse of migrant detainees, and cross-border shootings.
Despite the Border Patrol’s extensive challenges, it has also acted as the lifeblood of many border communities, seen as a source of jobs with good pay and benefits. The starting salary for a Border Patrol agent with no prior military or law enforcement experience is $US41,987.
Harris, the Academy chief, says he hopes a Border Patrol career instills within agents values forged in duty and sacrifice.
“I want them to look back and say, ‘Every day I was willing to put my life on the line for this country, and I served admirably, and I made a difference in the protection of America,'” Harris said.
Those aspirations, however, are being tested for the embattled agency. At the first day of boot camp for Class 1120, Harris spoke to a room full of recruits to stress upon them the need to wield their authority responsibly – which he noted includes arresting people and employing the lethal use of force when necessary.
“If you bring dishonor to the United States Border Patrol, if you bring dishonor to the uniform you are wearing, I’m going to fire you. Is that understood?” the Academy chief said.
The trainees responded, “Yes sir!” Then Harris went on to wish the green-clad recruits best of luck.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.