U.S.-Mexico border wall needed only in 'strategic locations,' says border patrol union head

PHOTO: There are a number of different types of fencing used along the border, some less difficult to climb than others. PlayABC News
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The head of the union representing U.S. Border Patrol agents said Wednesday that a wall along the southern border was only necessary in "strategic locations."

During a Senate hearing on staffing needs for Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), National Border Patrol Council president Brandon Judd said, "We don't need a great wall of the United States. We do not need 2,000 miles of border wall. I will tell you, however, that a wall in strategic locations is absolutely necessary."

Judd said the current fencing "can be defeated," explaining to the senators that he has spent time finding holes in the fence.

"If we do a wall and we do it properly on the border, we can in fact effectuate a better arrest rate and we can in fact secure the border,” he said. "Before we do that we have to address the current issues that we have."

President Trump made immigration enforcement and securing the southwest border a priority in his campaign and has followed up with executive action since he took office, directing CBP to hire 5,000 additional agents and ICE to hire 10,000 additional agents.

This will be a major undertaking for the agencies.

Newly sworn-in Border Patrol chief Ron Vitiello told ABC News in an exclusive interview last week that the agents on the ground are the most important part of the equation when it comes to border security.

"Somebody has to arrest the people who are going to continue to attempt to enter even if there is a border wall," he said.

Judd told senators that Border Patrol loses over 1,000 agents per year. He said the biggest issue facing Border Patrol hiring is pay parity with other agencies, adding that the agency has to bring back parity, otherwise there will be a "mass exodus to ICE when ICE starts hiring."

However, he called on the Congress not to restrict Border Patrol agents from getting hired by ICE, saying that preventing mobility would cause an even greater drop in morale.

Amid concerns that people are increasingly making illegal crossings into Canada, Judd said he doesn't want to create a situation where the only focus in on the southern border.

"What I am scared of is we are going to throw all of our resources to the southern border and leave the northern border wide open," said Judd.

The union president called on Border Patrol to station "at least" 1,500 of the yet-to-be hired 5,000 agents on the northern border.

Both ICE and Border Patrol unions endorsed Trump during the presidential campaign. Both said that morale has been up among the rank-and-file since the election.

Only union representatives spoke at the hearing. There were no government witnesses to discuss hiring and morale issues.

Aside from increased pay for Border Patrol agents, Judd said that boosting morale and changing the way the polygraph is administered are his top priorities to help fix the hiring needs of the agency.

National President of the National Treasury Employees Union, Anthony Reardon, who was representing CBP field operation employees said that the CBP officer shortage is "staggering."

"There is no greater roadblock to legitimate trade and travel efficiency and stopping illicit trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons and money than the lack of sufficient staff at the ports," he said.

There is an existing vacancy rate of nearly 1,400 already-budgeted CBP officers at ports and, an additional 2,100 CBP officers need to be funded and hired in order to meet 2017 staffing needs -- a total staffing shortage of 3,500 today, according to Reardon.

Chris Crane, president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, said ICE is suffering from a "toxic and failed management culture."

"Screw up and move up" is a term used by ICE employees to describe supervision all the way from low-level managers to the director of the agency, he said.

He said that ICE is made up of a "good ole' boy" network, in which supervisors cover for supervisors, and only rank and file employees are held accountable.

Employees refuse to report misconduct committed by supervisors because employees don't trust the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the agency or internal affairs offices to effectively carry out investigations against supervisors, according to Crane.

In terms of fixing staffing issues, he told the Senate committee that ICE needs to find ways to innovate, specifically in the best ways to allow agents to spend more time in the field and less time in the office doing paperwork.

He also said that hiring standards must be maintained and in some cases elevated.

"We need the "time to do this right," he said regarding the additional agents that ICE is planning to hire.

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