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Border Patrol agents grumble over duties for immigrant minors

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By The Washington Post
Sunday, June 22, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

As the Obama administration scrambles to respond to an influx of unaccompanied minors across the Mexican border into Texas, the union that represents 16,500 Border Patrol officers has made its frustration clear.

“New annual job rating areas: Babysitting, Diaper Changing, Burrito Wrapping, Cleaning cells. Law Enforcement? What's that? #lowmorale” the group wrote on its Twitter feed last weekend.

The message, posted to the National Border Patrol Council's Twitter account, was deleted after it was decried by immigrant advocates as racist. But the tweet reflected mounting concern among rank-and-file agents who have been yanked from patrol duty in high-risk border areas to process and care for tens of thousands of children, union officials said.

“Nothing in there was racist,” union President Brandon Judd said, referring to the tweet. “All he was trying to emphasize is that we can't do our jobs. Forty percent of our agents have been pulled from the field to baby sit, clean cells, change diapers. We're actually making burritos. That's not our job. Our job is to protect the border.”

The union's growing criticism of the Obama administration's border policies has added another sharp voice to the immigration debate in Washington, where the crisis has become the latest flash point between the two political parties. Administration officials on Friday announced measures to strengthen border policies to stem the flow of migrants, most of whom are from Central America and have crossed through the Rio Grande Valley in recent months without their parents.

In recent weeks, Democrats have pointed to images of the children sleeping in crowded holding rooms to emphasize the humanitarian costs of border policies that have left millions of undocumented immigrants in legal limbo. Republicans, meanwhile, have cited the crisis as evidence that President Obama must drastically bolster border security to deter waves of migrants from crossing illegally.

The patrol agents have lent weight to the GOP argument, warning in congressional hearings and on cable news shows that resources to combat drug and weapons trafficking have been diverted to handling the immigrant children. Judd told a House panel that the crisis is straining the Border Patrol “to the breaking point.”

Democratic lawmakers say the border agents' hard-line views have emboldened their GOP counterparts, contributing to the difficulties of reaching a comprehensive immigration deal in the House.

On some issues, the agents have directly contradicted the Obama administration, which initially cited gang-related violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras as the main cause of the crisis.

An internal Border Patrol memo, leaked to reporters, summarized interviews by agents on May 28 with 230 women and children apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley. The memo concluded that the primary reason for their arrivals in the United States was a perception that they would be permitted to remain in the country under the administration's policies.

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