Shutdown Squeeze: Agent Loses Financial Security While Working Border Security

PHOTO: U.S. Border PatrolPlayJohn Moore/Getty Images
WATCH Government Shutdown Day Three

Like so many of his comrades, one Border Patrol agent woke up for work Thursday at 4 a.m. with desperate hope that the lawmakers in Washington who forced a government shutdown finally got their own wake-up call.

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But, alas, not yet.

"You get your uniform on, and you sit there ... and you look at your kid, and you look at your wife, and you're like, 'They're depending on you. You're the sole breadwinner of the house,'" said the 39-year-old Border Patrol agent who's been working the Arizona border with Mexico for 10 years. "It's in the back of your mind. You don't know if you're going to get paid."

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Still, the agent, speaking to ABC News on the condition of anonymity, knew he had to get ready for work. So he packed himself a lunch, including an apple, a can of deviled ham, some almonds, a microwavable soup and a PowerBar – the energy bar that insists, "You're stronger than you think."

When he closed the house door behind him, he wouldn't be home for another 12 hours.

"Twelve free hours," he said with an unhappy laugh, referring to his compensation for the day.

At home, his wife and 6-month-old son were sleeping in their three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. He's lived there for eight years, still struggling to pay a $1,200-per-month mortgage and help fund his older son's college education.

The Border Patrol agent's wife isn't working right now, so it's up to him alone to keep the family fed and sheltered. But he said that's not why he reported for duty Thursday morning in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector -- one of the nation's most active spots for smuggling and illegal immigration from Mexico.

"We raised our right hand, we made an oath to protect this country and we will continue to do so," the agent said of himself and his fellow agents. "And it's sad that the politicians who took an oath don't care. It's about them right now, it seems. And the rest of us are just like little chess pieces for them to move around for their political careers because they're still getting a paycheck."

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The agent said that while driving two hours to the Arizona border Thursday morning, he "obviously" thought about the politics and pain of the government shutdown.

"But once you're out there, it's business as usual," he said. "We still have a job to do."

Thursday morning, he parked his vehicle near the border and then walked "several miles" over several hours, he said. He spent most of the day responding to potential "hits" by electronic sensors along the border that detect movement, or walking the border looking for other signs of illegal border-crossings.

On Thursday, he didn't find anyone to apprehend. But some of the more than 10,000 Border Patrol agents also working the Southwest border did, he said.

In addition, hundreds, if not thousands, of Border Patrol agents worked the northern border Thursday. In fact, nearly 90 percent of the 60,000 employees that make up U.S. Customs and Border Protection -- of which the Border Patrol is a part -- have not been furloughed during the government shutdown.

The thing is, "morale is in the dumps," said the Border Patrol agent who spoke to ABC News. "We don't see any fix."

"The uniformed guys are working. We're out there still doing the same hours, apprehending illegal entries and everything," he said. "But they're telling us we're not going to get paid come payday."

Agents are keeping logs of the hours they work and submitting them "as if we were gonna get paid," the agent told ABC News.

Federal workers who've been deemed essential -- or "excepted" -- and told to work during the government shutdown will only get paid if Congress agrees to that while resolving the impasse in Washington. And even then, "when you'll receive the check you don't know," the agent said.

It's essentially too late to financially prepare for the shutdown, according to the agent. Adjusting spending habits won't do much good.

"The bills that come in now that we have to pay are bills that were acquired before the shutdown, so they're still due," he said. "There's nothing you can do about it. It's not like all of a sudden, now, you can say, 'Don't buy this, don't purchase that.'

"I don't know if I'm going to get paid, but I do know that my mortgage bill is due," he added. "I know that my car payment's due. ... What do you tell the mortgage company? What do you tell the electric company?"

He said he and his wife don't talk about the situation much.

"We're pretty quiet about it now," he said. "There's nothing to say."

But he noted that he and his wife now "constantly" watch TV news hoping to see a report that the shutdown is over.

Until then, he said, he's telling his story hoping "a politician actually cares and does something."