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Border Patrol has lots of agents — in wrong places

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Sunday, June 29, 2014, 7:30 p.m.
 

SAN DIEGO — The downcast faces on computer screens are 1,500 miles away in a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas: a 20-year-old Honduran woman arrested rafting across the Rio Grande and a 23-year-old man caught under similar circumstances.

Four agents wearing headsets reel through a list of personal questions, spending up to an hour on each adult and longer on children. On an average day, hundreds of migrants are questioned on camera by agents in San Diego and other stations on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The long-distance interviews — introduced last year in El Paso, Texas, and extended to California — are a response to the dramatic increase of Central Americans crossing the border in Texas that has flooded immigration facilities with hundreds of women and children. The Border Patrol does not have the staff to process all the immigrants crossing in the Rio Grande Valley, but faraway colleagues have time to spare.

The remote video processing reveals a perpetual predicament that has long bedeviled the Border Patrol. Many agents wind up stationed in places where crossing activity is slowest because the Border Patrol struggles to keep up with constantly shifting migration patterns.

One example of the staffing mismatch: The approximately 2,500 agents in the San Diego sector arrested 97 immigrants illegally crossing the border on June 14, according to an internal document reviewed by The Associated Press. On the same day, about 3,200 agents in the Rio Grande Valley made 1,422 arrests.

President Obama will ask Congress for more than $2 billion to respond to the flood of immigrants illegally entering the country through the Rio Grande Valley and for powers to deal with returning, unaccompanied children, a White House official said.

A letter will be sent to Congress on Monday, said the official, who was not authorized to speak by name and discussed the requests on condition of anonymity. The amount and how it will be spent will be decided when Congress returns from recess on July 7. Whether any funds will go toward border staffing is unknown.

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