GIARITELLI: Border Patrol's Lost 25% of Its Workforce Since Biden Elected – the 'Biden Effect?'

“I’m not trying to be political. I’m just speaking facts.

By Anna Giaritelli

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Texas Insider Report) — 
The U.S. Border Patrol has lost nearly a quarter of its workforce since Democratic candidate Joe Biden beat incumbent Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, and some agents say it is no coincidence.
More than 4,000 federal agents have left the Border Patrol since October 2020. Twice as many agents have chosen to retire early compared to retirement rates during the Obama and Trump administrations.

“The administration is so bad for morale,” said a senior Border Patrol official who was not authorized to speak with media and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“I’m not trying to be political. I’m just speaking facts.

"It’s become so political. Catch and release is demoralizing for agents,” said the senior official.

In recent years, Border Patrol agents have lamented that the Biden administration’s immigration policy has caused a crisis that has sunk morale, but the new data provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that far more agents are choosing to leave than normal.
Matthew Hudak (right,) recently retired second-in-command of Border Patrol, said work for many agents had become comparable to Groundhog Day, arresting illegal immigrants then releasing them into the United States rather than detaining or removing them.

Hudak said it was humiliating for the federal law enforcement agents who had taken an oath to protect the country.

However, the losses for Border Patrol are not solely collateral damage from the political environment. Police organizations nationwide have struggled to recruit and retain officers, while federal agents today are leaving jobs early to earn far more money in the private sector.

Inside the numbers

The Border Patrol comprises more than 19,000 agents. Between October 2020 and April 2024, exactly 4,281 federal law enforcement agents left the organization.

The total number of agents who left the Border Patrol included those who quit, were forced to retire due to their age or number of years on the job, or who chose to retire as soon as they became eligible.
By contrast, in the seven years leading up to fall 2020, when Biden won the election, the organization lost an average of 996 agents annually.

Between fiscal 2021 and 2023, 3,665 agents left for an average of 1,222 per year. An additional 616 agents have left in the first seven months of fiscal 2024, which runs from October 2023 through September 2024.

The number of agents who chose to quit or took a job outside the Border Patrol has remained on par over the past decade between 600 and 900 each year.

The biggest change in why agents were leaving was noticed in retirements. Although mandatory retirements have remained below 100 each year, early retirements have soared under Biden.
Between 2014 and 2020, the number of early retirements averaged 257 per year. Since 2021, that figure has more than doubled – to an average of 529 agents who chose to leave at the first chance they were eligible.

Despite the doubling of agents choosing to leave early, CBP maintained that its attrition rate has clung between 4% and 6% and that the retirements have not had a major impact on overall attrition rates of the workforce.

Agents blame Biden

Agents retiring early in the past few years joined the Border Patrol in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some have lamented in conversations with the Washington Examiner that the job they signed up for two decades ago did not resemble their duties now and that the political climate has made them fearful of carrying out their jobs.
Border Patrol agents in rank-and-file and leadership roles across the southern border have told the Washington Examiner on numerous occasions since 2021 that morale was dropping, was at a new low, or gone altogether.

“Under Biden, things are the worst they have ever been by far,” said one agent who is based in Arizona in a previous interview.

“Agents are calling in all the time. You always hear, ‘It doesn’t matter,’ or, ‘What’s the point?’ in reference to doing our job. Agents are afraid of ending up on the news for doing their job – or getting in trouble for doing their job.

"There is no morale.”

In September 2021, Border Patrol agents in the Del Rio, Texas, area of the border were blasted by Biden following an incident in which the president accused horse-mounted agents of whipping Haitian men who refused to listen to agents’ verbal orders.

Before any investigation had been undertaken, top Biden administration officials condemned federal law enforcement. Biden said people were “being strapped” in an “outrageous” way and vowed that “those people will pay.” Mayorkas said he was horrified by the images before later admitting that he reacted “without having seen the images” prior to commenting to the media.

The agents were quietly vindicated but, to date, have not received a formal or public apology from Biden or Mayorkas (at right.)
“Our agency is half Hispanic, so we’re not a bunch of raging racists,” said the senior Border Patrol official who spoke anonymously.

“We just want to enforce the law. What really motivates them is being able to stop bad people and narcotics from coming in.”

Hudak said agents are frustrated because they feel they are no longer able to protect the public, given that agents face between 150,000 and 300,000 migrants being arrested every month.

“What you have to do to be able to divert your focus to be able to do that really has opened up a tremendously dangerous vulnerability for cartels and other criminals,” Hudak said.

Secondly, illegal immigrants who are apprehended can only be vetted against available information. The FBI’s terrorism watch list and U.S. criminal databases do not account for people’s arrest records outside the U.S. Agents can only confirm the identities of people in custody and vet them based on the little information they may have. Border Patrol agents cannot hold people in custody for more than a few days because of a major shortfall in immigration detention space due to a lack of funding from Congress and political will by the White House.
“That’s what’s frustrating for agents is so many people are encountered and then ultimately released because there is just no resources for detention,” Hudak said. “The volume exceeds any practical ability for detention, and there’s a lack of any messaging or policy or action of solid deterrence.”

But the toll on agents has also been recognized in the rising number of suicides.

CBP, the overseeing agency of the Border Patrol, became the first civilian agency in U.S. history to hire a “suicidologist” in 2021 as the number of employees dying by suicide rose.

Hudak said that while at national headquarters, those in leadership were well aware of employee suicides and worked diligently to help agents in various ways.

The CBP spokesperson said the Biden administration has surged resources to the border amid the ongoing migration event of people from around the globe. The challenge, according to CBP, is that the agency cannot out-staff the number of migrants coming across or ignore the legal proceedings that each migrant is legally obligated to go through once arrested.

CBP officials highlighted the need for other agencies to beef up staffing, including immigration judge teams at the Department of Justice, asylum officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and deportation officers at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. CBP alone cannot arrest its way out of the current situation without the back end of immigration enforcement being fully staffed, the spokesperson said.

Other factors pulling agents from the force

Agents are also leaving the Border Patrol for other reasons that were not commonplace 10 or 20 years ago. Agents who joined in the 1980s and 1990s were often in their late 20s or 30s. The cutoff age for new agents is 37, and the mandatory retirement age is 57.

Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, more agents joining the Border Patrol have been in their early 20s, making them eligible to retire by their mid-40s.

They are eligible to retire at 50 years old if they have put in 20 years of service or at any age if they have put in 25 years of service. For example, an agent who joined at 22 years old could retire at 47 years old, according to CBP guidelines.

The Border Patrol now offers ways for agents to enroll in higher education courses to advance their resumes, which, in turn, makes agents more marketable in the private sector after the government. In addition, more agents are joining after completing college or post-graduate studies.
“A lot more of them are educated. Some agents are attorneys. A lot had degrees or get degrees while in, so I think that has something to do with it. They’re more marketable within the private sector,” said the senior Border Patrol agent, who added that agents can retire with a good government pension and then easily turn around to get a well-paying, six-figure job in Washington.

The contracting market for federal deals with the Border Patrol has grown exponentially in recent years as the private sector looks to cash in on Congress’s willingness to fund border security technology and immigration enforcement initiatives.

Agents in senior positions across the agency are a commodity to contractors when they retire and open consulting practices.

“Companies [that] want to get these contracts with the Department of Homeland Security will hire,” the senior Border Patrol agent said.

Police nationwide are facing a crisis

Border Patrol attrition is reflective of the greater struggles within law enforcement.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said law enforcement agencies across the nation have faced major setbacks, including retention, in recent years and that the Border Patrol was not unique in the current climate.
“The problem is far, far bigger than the morale of the Border Patrol,” said Pasco.

“It’s the morale of police nationwide, and it’s not self-inflicted. It’s everywhere, and it’s serious.

“It has to do with the constant drumbeat of media criticism and politically opportunistic criticism of police – and as a result of erosion of respect for the profession, an erosion of support for the profession, both in the communities they serve and then the elected officials who theoretically are responsible for the safety of those same citizens” Pasco said.

Things may get worse before they get better in terms of staffing at the Border Patrol.

The Border Patrol doubled the number of agents between 2002 and 2011, from 10,000 to 20,000, according to acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller.

“Which means we have a large amount of folks retiring,” Miller testified before the House on April 30.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), who represents a district on the southern border, warned in a recent Capitol Hill hearing this spring that 800 more Border Patrol agents will retire by the end of 2024, further undercutting the agency’s staffing.

“Many of these employees have now honorably served the agency for more than 20 years, leading to an expected retirement surge due to a large number of personnel reaching eligibility,” a CBP spokesperson wrote in a statement. “We are planning now and pursuing additional funding to implement an updated human capital strategy to ensure the necessary staffing levels to perform our critical missions.”

The senior Border Patrol official said he is eligible for retirement but chose to stay on to support others in the organization and to support the mission.

“I want to stay to make things better for agents. … We’re kind of being hamstrung and having to process,” the senior official said. “But we are still doing good things.”

The Department of Homeland Security and National Border Patrol Council union did not respond to requests for comment.

Anna Giaritelli joined the Washington Examiner in 2015 and focuses on Homeland Security, Immigration, and Border Issues. Currently based in Austin, Texas, she has traveled to the border on more than 50 occasions since 2018, covering human smuggling, the evolution of the war on drugs, domestic terrorism, and migration trends. Follow Anna on Twitter @Anna_Giaritelli.