(By Susan Jones, CNSNews.com) – Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling for an investigation into the current staffing situation at the nation’s border crossings.
The New York Democrat wants the Government Accountability Office to examine the training, recruitment and attrition rates of border guards, following a highly publicized lapse involving a tuberculosis patient who was mistakenly allowed to cross the U.S.-Canada border.
Although a check of the man’s passport flagged him as someone who should be detained, a U.S. border guard waved him through, reportedly ignoring the warning message on his computer screen.
“Even though the agent was warned that the man should be detained at all costs — the individual was still allowed to drive into this country no questions asked,” Schumer said in a news release.
The Associated Press said the guard thought the TB patient looked perfectly healthy, so he disregarded the warning as “discretionary.” The guard has been reassigned to administrative duties, pending the outcome of the investigation.
“It’s high time we have a top to bottom investigation of our border control practices,” Schumer said. “These agents are our nation’s first line of defense and we need to make sure they get the support and training they deserve,” he added.
Schumer, echoing a complaint made by labor unions, said he’s concerned that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Service is overworked and understaffed, and that unless changes are made to boost recruitment, improve training and increase retention rates, the agency will be increasingly overwhelmed when it comes to keeping terrorists and weapons of mass destruction from crossing the upstate border.
“Today it was one very sick and very irresponsible person who slipped through, but tomorrow could bring much worse,” said Schumer. “There is just no excuse for this. God forbid this was someone bent on doing us harm – we simply must have more border guards, with better safety protocols, doing a better job.”
As of September 11, 2006, the Northern Border was still 1,428 officers short of the 4,845 agents required by the USA PATRIOT Act, Schumer noted in his press release.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there are 17 border crossings along the 500 miles of northern border in New York State. Those crossings are manned by approximately 980 uniformed officers, including 30 unarmed agriculture specialists.
In Fiscal Year 2006, CBP officers cleared 19 million passengers, including 9,790,680 passenger vehicles and 1,890,000 commercial trucks.
On Thursday, the TB patient was identified as 31-year-old Andrew Speaker, a personal injury lawyer from Atlanta who apparently learned on his European honeymoon that he had a drug-resistant form of the disease.
Rather than check himself into a hospital in Italy – and knowing he was on the U.S. no-fly list — he boarded a flight to Canada and drove back to the United States. He is now under federal quarantine at a Denver hospital that specializes in cases like his.
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1. Why is Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling for an investigation into the current staffing situation at U.S. border crossings?
2. a) What is the role of the Government Accountability Office? (Visit the website at gao.gov/about/what.html for the answer.)
b) What specifically is Sen. Schumer asking the office to do?
3. a) What concern does Senator Schumer share with labor unions?
b) Do you agree with his concern? Why or why not?
4. a) Under the USA Patriot Act, how many border agents are required to work at the Northern Border?
b) How many agents short were they as of September 11, 2006?
5. How important do you think it is to secure our borders? Why? Be specific.