U.S. immigration authorities have reached an agreement that will allow them to train about 800 new Border Patrol agents at an Army base in Alabama, a move designed to boost staffing along the U.S.-Mexico border by one-third in 1989.
The plan, which reflects the Reagan Administration's commitment to bolstering border enforcement, is a direct outgrowth of the sweeping immigration reforms approved by Congress in 1986.
The buildup--called the largest ever in patrol history--is considered the final component of the "three-pronged" approach to reducing illegal immigration that was mandated by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The other elements are the amnesty program for some undocumented residents and legal penalties against employers who hire illegal aliens.
"This is kind of the final building block," said Charles Huffman, chief patrol agent at the Border Patrol training academy in Glynco, Ga., where new agents are now trained.
Federal authorities have sought additional space because the Georgia facility is not equipped to handle the huge influx of agents expected to come on line in the coming months. The first class at the new facility, Ft. McClellan, is scheduled to begin Oct. 3.
1 Million Arrests
The Border Patrol buildup is designed to make it more difficult for illegal aliens to enter the United States via the notoriously porous, 1,952-mile border. In recent years, immigration authorities have annually recorded more than 1 million arrests of undocumented foreigners, mostly citizens of Mexico, in border areas. Arrests have declined since reaching record levels in 1986, but thousands of would-be immigrants continue to attempt to enter the United States clandestinely.
The planned patrol increase would bolster the force nationwide by more than one-third, adding about 1,100 agents to the nationwide force of 3,200, authorities said.
The 800 agents slated to be trained at Ft. McClellan are to be joined by about 300 trained at the existing facility in Georgia. All should be on line at the border by next June.
Immigration authorities have agreed to reimburse the Army for use of the training space, although exact terms were not available. The force was previously expanded by about 1,000 agents in fiscal 1985, when concern about an "invasion" of illegal aliens was peaking.
The patrol is a uniformed and armed branch of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Green-uniformed agents are a common sight in border areas, patrolling on foot, horseback, in assorted ground vehicles and in aircraft.