The nation's largest Border Patrol union has endorsed its first-ever presidential candidate: Donald Trump.
The National Border Patrol Council, which represents 16,500 Border Patrol agents largely on the US-Mexico border, declared that it was breaking with a "longstanding practice" of not endorsing candidates in presidential primaries because "the lives and security of the American people are at stake, and the National Border Patrol Council will not sit on the sidelines."
"The fact that people are more upset about Mr. Trump's tone than about the destruction wrought by open borders tells us everything we need to know about the corruption in Washington," the group said in an effusive statement circulated by the Trump campaign on Wednesday. "We need a person in the White House. Donald Trump is such a man."
The NBPC praised Trump as a political outsider "who doesn't fear the media, who doesn't embrace political correctness, who doesn't need the money, who is familiar with success, who won't bow to foreign dictators, who is pro-military and values law enforcement, and who is angry for America and NOT subservient to the interests of other nations."
Although the union did not mention either of Trump's Republican opponents by name, it included a veiled reference to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, comparing him to President Obama.
"America has already tried a young, articulate freshman senator who never created a job as an attorney and under whose watch criminal cartels have been given the freest border reign [sic] ever known," the statement said.
"Our current political establishment has bled this country dry, sees their power evaporating, and isn't listening to voters who do all the heavy lifting," the group continued. "You can judge a man by his opponents: all the people responsible for the problems plaguing America today are opposing Mr. Trump. It is those without political power — the workers, the law enforcement officers, the everyday families and community members — who are supporting Mr. Trump."
The NBPC has long been critical of Obama's administration and members of Congress, whom they say are putting their lives and those of the American people in danger by failing to enforce immigration laws. The union's website calls the current US strategy for defending the border "historically foolish" and "a failure".
The group praised Trump for making an issue of immigration in the 2016 presidential race, agreeing with his frequent statements that it would not have been central to the race had he not, in the NBPC's estimation, "made some bold and necessary statements."
"And when the withering media storm ensued he did not back down one iota," the group added. "That tells you the measure of a man."
But the statement endorsing Trump makes no mention of one of the central tenets of his controversial immigration policy: his plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border with a "big, beautiful door" in it. Experts estimate that the cost of building a wall could be between $15 and $25 billion, although that also depends on its height, which Trump has yet to nail down. Trump has said that Mexico will pay for the wall, but Mexican Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray said earlier this month that "under no circumstances" will the country do so.
The NBPC has criticized the idea of building a border fence or wall, and currently has a section on its website arguing that such a project would amount to "wasting taxpayer money."
"Walls and fences are temporary solutions," the group argues on its website, adding that those who want to enter the country illegally will find a way around them. "Walls and fences will undoubtedly result in an increase in fraudulent documents and smuggling through the Ports of Entry."
It goes on to say that such barriers "do not solve the issue of people entering the country legally and staying beyond the date they are required to leave the country, a problem which will undoubtedly increase as more walls and fences are constructed."
However, the union also says that as long as the country's immigration laws are not being enforced and politicians "ignore the problem that is causing illegal immigration" — which they identify as "employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens" — it realizes that "fences and walls are essential."
Trump himself has been accused of hiring illegal immigrants to build his hotel in Washington, DC, which is slated to open this summer and has for the last year borne a large "Coming in 2016 Trump" sign just blocks from the White House. The Washington Post found several workers there last summer who said that they had entered the country illegally. Trump's campaign said at the time that the responsibility of checking the documentation of those workers lay with the contracting company he hired to oversee the site.
Shawn Moran, the vice president and spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, said that the group had not discussed the issue with the Trump campaign.
"It bothers me when people hire illegal aliens," Moran said in a phone interview. "But I also know that when you're running a company like that, you're not personally responsible for every person that is hired. I know that things are delegated out in corporations — there's contractors, there's subcontractors. You know, I'm not trying to be an apologist for Mr. Trump because I'm not familiar with his business practices in regards to this."
As for the border wall, Moran said in an email that a fence or wall "is just one tool at our disposal and you cannot rely solely upon it."
Ideally, a wall would "slow down" illegal immigrants, giving border patrol agents more "time to respond," he argued, but without increased border security a wall alone is useless. "A fence and infrastructure are great but have never made an arrest and are useless if no one is able to respond to effect an arrest."
Still, Moran argued, border fences can be effective in some ways. They have helped to stop what agents call "drive-bys," in which large groups of illegal immigrants just drive over the border into urban areas like San Diego, California, and Tucson, Arizona. But he also noted that Border Patrol agents still see people trying to go around the fence either by using ladders or tunneling under.
"If you build a 20-foot-fence, we've seen smugglers just come back with a 21-foot-ladder," Moran said.
He noted that the NBPC discussed the issue with Trump's immigration policy staffers at length and were assured that the wall is just one aspect of his plan to secure the borders. The Trump campaign has also promised the NBPC leadership a "seat at the table in helping to structure future border policy," Moran said.
Trump said that he was "deeply grateful" for the endorsement in a statement on Monday, saying it represents "a total rejection of the corrupt politicians who have allowed transnational gangs and cartels to terrorize American communities."
"The NBPC provides the vital outlet to learn the truth — not the political spin from bureaucrats — about what is really happening on our border," Trump added. "And the NBPC has been the one outlet these agents have to prevent their voice from being drowned out by big money special interests."
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