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Border Patrol Agent Says His Colleagues Support Barriers And Increased Staffing


The ranks of federal workers going without pay include the nation's approximately 20,000 Border Patrol agents. Still, three national leaders of the agents' union, the National Border Patrol Council, stood next to President Trump at the White House last week as the president insisted he would resist any effort to reopen the affected agencies and start paying federal workers' salaries if Congress does not meet his demand for money for a border wall. But those union leaders did not take any questions, so reporters weren't able to ask them how their members feel.

So we decided to call an agent we know. He's a 20-plus-year veteran of the Border Patrol whom we met on assignment in San Diego. He previously served as president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613 in San Diego - Terence Shigg.

Agent Shigg, thank you so much for joining us.

TERENCE SHIGG: Oh, thank you for having me. It's always a pleasure.

MARTIN: Well, we appreciate that. At the White House briefing, the Border Patrol Council president, Brandon Judd, gave this very full endorsement of President Trump's position. I'll just play a little bit of what he said.


BRANDON JUDD: Walls actually work. I promise you that if you interview Border Patrol agents, they will tell you that walls work.

MARTIN: So, Terence Shigg, from your understanding of things and from your representation of the folks you work with, is that the position of most of the agents you know? Is that your position?

SHIGG: Yes, that is my position. And the wording changes from walls to barriers to fencing. And I think barriers work, and that's been proven, especially here in San Diego. You can come here, and you can see the places that are more secure due to the fact that we have barriers here. So I agree with that statement, and I think most Border Patrol agents know that that is a fact - that they do help and that they do work.

MARTIN: What - are there any other measures that Border Patrol agents would like to see funded?

SHIGG: Yes. And that's the thing - walls and barriers don't work on their own. They need boots on the ground. So we need increased staffing. We need radios that are up to date. We need the infrastructure as far as the roads to get to those barriers. So there's a lot of other things that need to be built as well as the barriers. And I think that's what sometimes we feel as though the focus goes away from because there's much more to this picture than just a, quote-unquote, "wall."

MARTIN: This morning, we heard from the mayor of McAllen, Texas, Jim Darling, who said that the crisis on the border now with so many asylum seekers presenting themselves to border patrol agents is that you really need more people, and in part what you need is more social workers to process these claims and to, you know, work with people who in some cases are in dire circumstances. And you actually are a counselor yourself, and I wanted to ask if you think that that might be true.

SHIGG: Yes, I do agree with that. And that's what I was saying - that big picture. Those are the things that need to be part of this conversation. There need to be, yes, more social workers. There need to be more immigration judges because those are the ones that are processing all these claims. And all of the numbers that are coming over are overwhelming to us. But on the back end - we just do the front end. Now, the back end where the investigation has to be done, where the paperwork has to be processed, where the people have to be interviewed - they haven't increased their staffing at all. So that's another thing that has to be part of this conversation and should be a part of this budget.

MARTIN: The agents are due to get their paychecks this coming week on January 11, and it looks as though - I mean, if the talks continue as they have been, without any apparent progress, it looks as though you and fellow agents won't be getting paid. But, as essential personnel, they are expected to stay on the job. And I wanted to ask, you know, how is morale?

SHIGG: Well, morale has definitely taken a hit. The guys and gals that I work with - they really - one, they appreciate the support, and they appreciate this topic being at the forefront of the discussion. But it is something that does weigh in the back of your mind because our guys and gals have families. They have bills to pay. They have things that need to be done. And, on top of that, they still have to work and put their lives on the line without receiving any compensation. And that goes against every labor union rule that I've ever heard of.

MARTIN: That's Terence Shigg. He has served as a Border Patrol agent for more than 20 years. He is also a counselor in private practice, and he was kind enough to join us from his home in San Diego.

Agent Shigg, thank you so much for talking to us once again. We appreciate it.

SHIGG: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate you having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.