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Bush budget scraps 9,790 border patrol agents
Houston Chronicle
Michael Hedges
February 9, 2005

Washington -- The law signed by President Bush less than two months ago to add thousands of border patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border has crashed into the reality of Bush's austere federal budget proposal, officials said Tuesday.

Officially approved by Bush on Dec. 17 after extensive bickering in Congress, the National Intelligence Reform Act included the requirement to add 10,000 border patrol agents in the five years beginning with 2006. Roughly 80 percent of the agents were to patrol the southern U.S. border from Texas to California, along which thousands of people cross into the United States illegally every year.

But Bush's proposed 2006 budget, revealed Monday, funds only 210 new border agents.

The shrunken increase reflects the lack of money for an army of border guards and the capacity to train them, officials said.

Retired Adm. James Loy, acting head of the Department of Homeland Security until nominee Michael Chertoff takes over, said funding only 210 new agents was a "recognition that we need to balance those things as we go on down the road with other priorities."

The White House referred questions about the border agents to the Homeland Security Department.

The law signed by Bush had a caveat that went virtually unreported at the time. A summary, published by the Senate Government Affairs Committee, required the government to increase the number of border patrol agents by at least 2,000 per year, "subject to available appropriations."

Democrats were unhappy that the proposed budget used the escape clause so soon after the president approved the huge boost in border agents.

"We know we must do more to shore up security along our borders," said Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, top Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "The president's budget does not even attempt to meet this challenge."

Some Republicans also were displeased.

"This is an area of homeland security that needs to be ramped up in order to increase surveillance and patrols of our nation's vast and often remote borders," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

A Jan. 24 letter signed by leading Republican lawmakers implored the president to fully fund the new law "in order to secure our borders against infiltration by terrorists."

The lead signer was Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a leader of GOP efforts to toughen immigration laws and anti-terrorism statutes.

Original Text