On a recent episode of his HBO talk show, comedian Bill Maher said it was outrageous how much the Border Patrol is poised to expand due to an amendment to the Senate immigration bill.
Maher was referring to an amendment sponsored by GOP Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee that would add "19,200 additional trained, full-time, active duty U.S. Border Patrol agents along the southern border." The amendment was widely seen as as a way of garnering votes from undecided Republicans. (The amendment, and eventually the bill itself, passed the Senate easily with bipartisan support, though the measure now faces an uncertain fate in the House.)
If the bill is enacted as is, Maher said during a roundtable segment of his June 21, 2013, show, it is "going to make the Border Patrol bigger than the FBI -- you could put one agent every 250 feet. There'll be over 40,000 agents. It's four times more than any of the Republicans were asking for in their wildest dreams. It's like, to get Republican senators to vote for something now, you have to get to crazy."
A reader suggested we check out this claim, so we did.
The bill is "going to make the Border Patrol bigger than the FBI"
The amendment promises 19,200 additional trained, full-time, active duty U.S. Border Patrol agents along the southern border. In most media accounts, this has been shorthanded to be roughly a doubling of the size of the southwest border agent ranks to 40,000.
The most recent published statistics we found reported that in 2012, there were 18,516 Border Patrol agents on the southwest border. That would make the new total 37,716 once the newcomers are all sworn in and wearing uniforms. That’s not quite 40,000, but even at 37,716, it’s still enough to beat the FBI, because in 2012, the FBI had 35,629 employees.
Want an even more striking comparison? Match up the number of agents in each of the two agencies.
The FBI has 13,766 special agents. This means that once the amendment’s plan is carried out, the Border Patrol will have more than two and a half times as many agents on the southwestern border alone as the FBI does to investigate crimes anywhere in the world. (And the Border Patrol is even bigger than that. It assigned an additional 2,430 agents in 2012 to the northern border and coastal regions, and its parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has nearly 39,000 additional employees in the U.S. and around the world.)
So, however you slice it, Maher’s correct that the Border Patrol will be bigger than the FBI if the Senate bill is enacted.
"You could put one (Border Patrol) agent every 250 feet"
According to the International Water and Boundary Commission -- a bi-national body that oversees governance issues on the U.S.-Mexico border -- the border between the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico is is 1,954 miles long. That works out to 10.32 million feet.
Doing the math, you could space out 37,716 agents one every 274 feet (or, using the widely published 40,000 figure, you could put them every 258 feet). Either way, Maher’s calculation strikes us as very close to accurate.
Needless to say, the Border Patrol wouldn’t deploy their personnel in this fashion. Not only do patrols work on shifts, but some agents are flying helicopters, some are escorting or guarding detainees and a good number are shoulder-to-shoulder at the major border cross points screening cars, searching for drugs. But Maher’s rhetorical point is well-taken: The agency literally, if it wished, could place agents every 274 feet.
Maher said that if it is enacted, the Senate immigration bill is "going to make the border patrol bigger than the FBI -- you could put one agent every 250 feet." He’s right on the first claim and on target with the second. In all, we rate his statement True.
HBO, "Real Time with Bill Maher," June 21, 2013
Text of S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act as passed by the Senate, accessed July 1, 2013
International Boundary and Water Commission, map of U.S.-Mexico border, accessed July 1, 2013
U.S. Border Patrol, "Border Patrol Agent Staffing By Fiscal Year (Oct. 1st through Sept. 30th)," accessed July 1, 2013
Fedscope, main federal employment statistics search page, acessed July 1, 2013
Federal Bureau of Investigation, diversity statistics, accessed July 1, 2013
Sen. Bob Corker, "The Hoeven-Corker Amendment: Myth vs. Fact," June 24, 2013
New York Times, "Border Deal by 2 in G.O.P. Lifts Chances of Immigration Bill," June 20, 2013
Email interview with John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, July 1, 2013
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