In an attempt to further support the failing National Border Patrol Strategy, the Border Patrol decided to waste millions of dollars to construct permanent Forward Operating Bases (FOB) in the Tucson, Yuma, and El Paso sectors. The National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) believes FOBs are an enormous waste of taxpayer money for numerous reasons, some of which are documented later in this article. If FOBs are going to be constructed without regard to their effectiveness, then the NBPC believes the Border Patrol should be required to construct the FOBs in accordance with regulations designed for permanent government housing and Border Patrol stations, not regulations designed for temporary migrant worker camps. Finally, the Border Patrol should be forced to cease operations at all FOBs until the Border Patrol properly addresses the serious safety and security issues that currently exist at the FOBs or the Border Patrol will not be able to falsely claim they were unaware of the unsafe conditions that exist if and when one of our agents are injured or killed while assigned to the FOBs.
The first camps were established in the Tucson Sector in 2002. Later, during the period when David Aguilar was the chief of the Border Patrol, he started modeling the Border Patrol, a civilian law enforcement agency, after the military and it was during this time that they adopted the military term of "Forward Operating Base" for the camps. Unlike the military, the Border Patrol clearly does not appear to understand the importance of providing agents with the appropriate facilities, equipment, resources, etc. to maintain operational security of an FOB.
REGULATIONS FOR TEMPORARY MIGRANT WORKER CAMPS
Ironically, in consulting with officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) learned how the regulation that applies to the construction, maintenance, and operation of the FOBs was specifically designed for temporary migrant worker camps, not Border Patrol operations. The regulation provided by OSHA was 29 CFR § 1910.142. Upon review of 29 CFR § 1910.142, the NBPC was shocked to learn how the FOBs do not even meet the basic standards established for temporary migrant worker camps and are in violation in several areas. The NBPC is attempting to obtain information from the Border Patrol in order to identify and document all of the violations, but as expected, the Border Patrol is not cooperating and instead denied the initial information request by erroneously claiming it was a management right to assign work.
The following is a list of sections of the temporary migrant worker regulation that the Border Patrol is willfully violating. While most are self-explanatory and do not need further clarification, some may include one or more examples:
Each room used for sleeping purposes shall contain at least 50 square feet of floor space for each occupant. At least a 7-foot ceiling shall be provided.
The Border Patrol apparently does not believe agents should have a minimum of 50 square feet of floor space like temporary migrant workers and instead is providing less space for agents.
Beds, cots, or bunks, and suitable storage facilities such as wall lockers for clothing and personal articles shall be provided in every room used for sleeping purposes. Such beds or similar facilities shall be spaced not closer than 36 inches both laterally and end to end, and shall be elevated at least 12 inches from the floor. If double-deck bunks are used, they shall be spaced not less than 48 inches both laterally and end to end. The minimum clear space between the lower and upper bunk shall be not less than 27 inches. Triple-deck bunks are prohibited.
In an effort to save money, the Border Patrol requires agents to purchase their own bedding when they report to an FOB. Agents are restricted in what they may bring to an FOB. Agents also have to purchase large coolers to transport and store food and drinks since neither are provided or available and agents are prohibited from leaving the FOB during the period they are assigned there.
All living quarters shall be provided with windows the total of which shall be not less than one-tenth of the floor area. At least one-half of each window shall be so constructed that it can be opened for purposes of ventilation.
All exterior openings shall be effectively screened with 16-mesh material. All screen doors shall be equipped with self-closing devices.
All heating, cooking, and water heating equipment shall be installed in accordance with State and local ordinances, codes, and regulations governing such installations. If a camp is used during cold weather, adequate heating equipment shall be provided.
An adequate supply of hot and cold running water shall be provided for bathing and laundry purposes. Facilities for heating water shall be provided.
Fly-tight, rodent-tight, impervious, cleanable or single service containers, approved by the appropriate health authority shall be provided for the storage of garbage. At least one such container shall be provided for each family shelter and shall be located within 100 feet of each shelter on a wooden, metal, or concrete stand.
"Insect and rodent control." Effective measures shall be taken to prevent infestation by and harborage of animal or insect vectors or pests.
Adequate first aid facilities approved by a health authority shall be maintained and made available in every labor camp for the emergency treatment of injured persons.
Such facilities shall be in charge of a person trained to administer first aid and shall be readily accessible for use at all times.
It shall be the duty of the camp superintendent to report immediately to the local health officer the name and address of any individual in the camp known to have or suspected of having a communicable disease.
Multiple agents have experienced various illnesses, to include respiratory infections while assigned to the unsanitary, substandard living conditions provided at the FOBs. The NBPC is in the process of determining the extent of the illnesses at the various FOBs.
While it is a relief to finally learn of at least one regulation that establishes basic standards for the FOBs, it is extremely disturbing to learn that those standards were intended for temporary migrant worker camps. It is even more astonishing to discover the FOBs do not even meet those standards. This is an insult to the men and women who are assigned to these FOBs. Regardless of these substandard conditions, the brave men and women of the Border Patrol continue to protect our borders 24/7.
CRITICAL SAFETY AND SECURITY CONCERNS NOT PROPERLY ADDRESSED
In addition to the above, there are numerous critical safety and security concerns that must be addressed, but cannot be cited in this document as they may jeopardize the safety of our agents. The military would never consider operating a Forward Operating Base with the security and safety issues that currently exist in the FOBs operated by the Border Patrol. Unlike the Border Patrol command, the military command has extensive experience and knowledge in constructing and securing an FOB. Moreover, protecting the troops is a priority for the military command.
REGULATIONS FOR PERMANENT GOVERNMENT HOUSING
As a result, the NBPC believes the Border Patrol should be required to follow regulations that apply to permanent government housing and Border Patrol stations, not temporary migrant camps. If no such regulation exists, then before demanding, supporting, or funding the construction of additional FOBs, Congress should pass legislation to ensure Border Patrol agents are provided high-speed facilities that provide for the safety and security of Border Patrol agents who are forced to work there, not a substandard facility that would not even pass for a migrant worker camp. For obvious safety and security reasons, the Border Patrol should not be allowed to build an FOB in the immediate vicinity of the border as it would unnecessarily expose Border Patrol agents to attacks from drug cartels at war in Mexico.
In addition, Border Patrol agents should not be forced to stay at an FOB during off-duty hours without proper compensation. It makes no sense that the Border Patrol requires agents to stay at the FOB in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do, and with unreasonable restrictions on what they can do in their off-duty time without compensation. As mentioned before, the Border Patrol is a civilian law enforcement agency, not the military, and the Border Patrol should be severely cautioned on attempts to militarize the Border Patrol.
OPPOSITION TO WASTING TAXPAYER MONEY ON FORWARD OPERATING BASES
Finally, the NBPC strongly opposes the waste of taxpayer money going toward the construction of the FOBs for the numerous reasons:
1. FOBs are only necessary because political appointees like David Aguilar continue to promote the National Border Patrol Strategy, even though it has been particularly unsuccessful against the overall problem of illegal immigration since it was implemented in 1994. The evidence to support this statement is the steadily increasing number of illegal aliens living in the United States since the strategy was implemented.
2. FOBs should never be built because the amount of money related to construction, maintenance, and manpower will far exceed the intended purpose of deterring illegal entries in a small area of the United States border. As every Border Patrol agent knows, once an FOB is established, the smugglers will just go around the area and manpower will be forced to stay there for the sole purpose of protecting the property.
3. Congress must pass meaningful legislation that actually addresses the magnet (jobs) that draws people to the United States in the first place, as this will be the most effective means of securing the borders and deterring illegal immigration. So there is no confusion, the NBPC does not endorse legislation that grants any form of amnesty to those who entered and work in the United States in violation of existing laws.
4. Since one through three above will not likely occur, as is proven by the past sixteen years of ignoring the magnet, taxpayer money would be better spent on a combination of a wall, technology, additional manpower, and air resources to monitor the areas where FOBs are located and/or being considered. In some cases, areas where FOBs are now being constructed were routinely patrolled by agents without the need to waste taxpayer money building a facility that will be avoided once it is established.
URGENT ACTIONS REQUIRED
Unfortunately, Congress appears to be content in believing the ridiculous justifications for the FOBs asserted by political appointees like David Aguilar. Accordingly, the NBPC demands the initial urgent actions be taken immediately with regards to the FOBs and intends to hold managers, Labor Employee Relations Specialists, and Mission Support personnel personally responsible if an agent is physically harmed due to the numerous, critical safety and security issues that continue to be disregarded:
1. Existing FOBs should be closed immediately until the critical safety and security issues are properly addressed;
2. The Border Patrol should be required to construct FOBs in accordance with applicable regulations for permanent government housing and Border Patrol stations;
3. No FOB should be constructed in close proximity to the border with Mexico, as this would unnecessarily expose agents to attacks from criminals and cartels at war in Mexico;
4. The Border Patrol should be required to provide sufficient security for the FOBs to prevent unauthorized persons from entering the compound and harming agents who were forced to live and work from them, as has happened on numerous occasions at various FOBs;
5. The Border Patrol should not be allowed to force Border Patrol agents to remain at an FOB during their off-duty time without proper compensation and with unreasonable restrictions on what they can do during their off-duty time.