ARTESIA, N.M. – With lawmakers demanding the U.S.-Mexico border be secured, the pressure is on the federal Border Patrol Academy to produce more agents.
Since 2004, hundreds of recruits and millions of federal dollars have poured into the academy on the former campus of Artesia Christian College. The academy expects to graduate 1,700 new agents this year, officials said.
Congress has called for the expansion of the Border Patrol from its current force of 11,500 agents to 21,000 within five years. About 9,000 agents are stationed along the southern border of the United States.
The Artesia campus is expanding to accommodate recruits, and academy officials say they can meet the demand for an expanded force.
Some critics, however, say lawmakers' expectations for a quick expansion are unrealistic. Others question the policy of expanding the force, saying the government can't control illegal immigration simply by adding more agents.
Work is being completed on a $14 million, 50,000-square-foot addition to the academy's gymnasium, which will be shared with other federal agencies. Future additions include a new aquatic center and new dormitories.
The academy was moved to Artesia two years ago from centers in Georgia and South Carolina. The campus already had been converted to a training center for federal law enforcement agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Air Marshals.
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, criticized the move, noting a lack of town infrastructure for new recruits. Border Patrol spokesman Maria Valencia said the agency gets one agent for every 30 applicants, she said.
"It's a tough job with a lot of physical demands," said Deborah Waller Meyers, an analyst who studies the Border Patrol at the Migration Policy Center, a nonpartisan think-tank in Washington, D.C. "It's not the kind of job your average unemployed person can do."