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Border Patrol has lots of agents ­– in wrong places

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POSTED June 29, 2014 6:46 p.m.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The downcast faces on computer screens are 1,500 miles away at 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 even 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 also 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 roughly 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, the roughly 3,200 agents in the Rio Grande Valley made 1,422 arrests.

President Barack Obama will ask Congress for more than $2 billion to respond to the flood of immigrants illegally entering the U.S. through the Rio Grande Valley and for new powers to deal with returning unaccompanied children, a White House official said Saturday. 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 exact amount and how it will be spent will come after Congress returns from recess on July 7. Whether any funds will go toward border staffing is unknown.

In San Diego, the video processing is a welcome change of pace. Arrests are at 45-year lows and many agents go entire shifts without finding anyone. Cesar Rodriguez, who joined the Border Patrol in 2010, said eight hours fly by since he gave up his assignment watching a stretch of scrub-covered hills east of San Diego and took on a new assignment to process the immigrants via video.

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