EL PASO — Sequestration is having an impact on the day-to-day operations of the U.S. Border Patrol, according to agents who say they’re coping with a fuel shortage.
“We’ll have the same number of agents — just fewer vehicles,” said Rob Russell of the National Border Patrol Council.
Russell is with the local El Paso area union, where he said agents are seeing changes on the job to conserve fuel. Rather than one agent per vehicle, in some cases there are two — which means fewer trucks on patrol.
“This is one of the first times we’ve seen it this severe where they’re going to start doubling up agents. We’ve never had to do this,” said Russell, who has been with the Border Patrol for 15 years.
And in another move to save gasoline, the Border Patrol is shuttling groups of agents to trucks in the field or areas closer to the border rather than have them drive the vehicles back and forth to the station.
In the Rio Grande Valley, a representative with the local Border Patrol agents’ union told KRGV-TV some stations are dealing with fuel rationing on some shifts.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials will not comment specifically about how budget cuts affect fuel for Border Patrol trucks. However, in an e-mailed statement, they said a plan had been submitted to Congress that — if approved — should eliminate the need to furlough.
However, the agency said sequestration “will continue to have serious impacts on CBP’s operations, including nearly $600 million in cuts. We continue to encourage all parties to work together on a solution that can replace sequestration entirely and avoid the damaging impacts to CBP and critical services across the country.”
According to the union in the El Paso area, some agents are being asked to turn off their engines while parked in areas where they do surveillance.
“I know Ysleta station has been instructing their agents to shut off their engines, shut down their vehicles when they're down. there to try to conserve fuel,” Russell said.
Whether parked in a strategic spot or on patrol, the green-and-white trucks are the most high profile sign of Border Patrol agents’ presence.
Angelica Cardona, who lives in the border community Sunland Park, said she sees “about 10 to 20 or more, even at night,” referring to the Border Patrol trucks parked overlooking the desert area near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Agents are concerned about enforcement if there are fewer patrol vehicles visible right on the border.
“Smugglers will take advantage of that. They’re going to see fewer vehicles out there. That’s going to be pretty obvious to them,” Russell said.