A Border Patrol Official's Take On Trump's First 100 Days
LYNN NEARY, HOST:
"The Green Line" is a podcast for Border Patrol agents hosted by Border Patrol agents. It had always been critical of the government for overlooking the needs of agents in the field. Then one day, candidate Donald Trump called in and promised, if elected, he would beef up their resources.
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE GREEN LINE")
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, it would be much different than it is now. I mean, you would really have the tools to do the job because we have to stop it at the border.
NEARY: "The Green Line" is co-hosted by Art Del Cueto, who is also vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.
ART DEL CUETO: Hello. I'm glad to be on.
NEARY: So President Trump is almost 100 days into his presidency. Where does the president stand with you and with Border Patrol agents right now?
DEL CUETO: You know, I think it's still refreshing. From day one, President Trump, you know, he has been focused on securing America's borders. And it's been great to see, you know, Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Kelly talking to the American people, talking to, you know, Border Patrol agents and letting us know what needs to happen to keep America safe. We've never seen this level of commitment from any previous organization. We've never seen it.
NEARY: Well, the president has proposed an additional $374 million in funding for the Border Patrol in his proposed budget. And that would include hiring 5,000 new agents. Do you think the president can deliver on that in the final budget?
DEL CUETO: We do need more agents. But what is also important is that the agents that we currently have - there needs to be some kind of way to retain these agents. Currently, the Border Patrol is losing more agents every month than what they're gaining, and that is what's scary. What you're losing is you're also losing experience. So I think that's what's important.
NEARY: Now, your organization describes itself as a council within the American Federation of Government Employees. But is your organization a union?
DEL CUETO: No, it's a council. We've always said it's a council.
NEARY: A council within a union. A council...
DEL CUETO: Council within the union, right.
NEARY: OK. So you are all union members. Is that right?
DEL CUETO: Correct. Yeah, that is correct.
NEARY: So it sounds like you are raising some issues that are really union issues, maybe salary or work conditions. Are these things that you're saying need to be addressed in order to retain these Border Patrol agents?
DEL CUETO: No, there's definitely a lot of those things that need to be addressed to retain them. You know, during the prior administration, we got put in a very bad spot where we lost a significant amount of our pay. We work in more rugged terrain than anyone else. We're out there in the middle of nowhere by ourselves many, many times. So I think that there should be some type of pay parity to other individuals that are within our same organization.
NEARY: Right. So conservative Republicans are not known to be union-friendly, and I wonder if you see a scenario where union demands could put you in conflict with the Trump administration and conservatives in Congress.
DEL CUETO: Well, you know, I wouldn't call it union demands. We call ourselves the National Border Patrol Council. We don't call ourselves the National Border Patrol Union. But we look like a union. I mean, it is what it is, right?
DEL CUETO: Let's call it what it is. But the reality is we can't strike. We're just trying to make sure that the agents are taken care of. I think the difference here is that we're law enforcement. The majority of our members are pretty much conservatives themselves, so that's what makes it different.
NEARY: Let me ask you this. You know, of course - we all know - the president has said many, many times he is committed to building a wall along the border. How important is that wall to Border Patrol agents? Is it your main priority?
DEL CUETO: There's a lot of things that we need, not just the wall. The wall is very important, retention of other agents is very important, equipment is very important, our vehicles, all that. I mean, it's just all important. You can't truly just put a price on one particular thing when it comes to securing our borders. You just can't do that. I mean, I just - I think that would be irresponsible.
NEARY: Art Del Cueto is a co-host of "The Green Line" podcast and vice president of the National Border Patrol Council. Thanks so much for being with us today.
DEL CUETO: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.