Hire Veterans to Secure U.S. Borders

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COMMENTARY | Many U.S. military veterans are coming home to a tough economy and high unemployment rates. For December, the U.S. average unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, but for recent military veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan era, it was 13.1 percent. Along with trying to reintegrate into mainstream society, recent veterans who are opting out of the military, after honorably serving their country, are facing difficulties finding jobs. As of December, there were an estimated 21 million military veterans in the United States.

Finding a job that takes complete advantage of veterans' skills and training is next to impossible in the civilian setting. What type of job will allow veterans to use their training and skills while adequately compensating them? The answer could lie in securing U.S. borders.

Unsecured U.S. borders include more than 6,000 miles inland and 2,000 miles of coastline. These 8,000 miles are secured by approximately 21,000 border patrol agents. The unsecured portions of the borders allow for an increase in national security issues due to illegal immigration, drug-trafficking, and terrorists' entry into the country.

While the National Guard and other branches of the military are assigned to assist with securing the borders this (literally) takes an act of Congress. And the congressional act comes with a deadline, since it is (generally) illegal for the military to enforce civilian laws, per the Posse Comitatus Act. The Posse Comitatus Act ensures that there cannot be a permanent military presence at the borders.

There is precedent for this proposal. In February 2012, President Barack Obama requested $6 billion for retraining programs to assist veterans in obtaining jobs with the police and fire departments, or as park rangers. While these are important public service jobs that veterans could easily transition into, none of them takes full advantage of the training and specialized skills our military veterans have.

Hiring veterans as border patrol agents is simpler than hiring someone with no military background. In many cases, the veterans have already passed tests (including physical tests) that are similar to those administered to border patrol recruits. The veterans stand a better chance of passing all that is required of border patrol agent recruits, including security clearances.

Veterans comprise 28.8 percent of border patrol and are highly recruited, having shown themselves to be effective in these positions. Greatly increasing the number of border patrol agents, and the hiring of veterans, would allow the United States to have highly trained security at the borders without violating the Posse Comitatus Act.

Doubling the number of border patrol agents by hiring veterans would likely decrease the illegal border activity. Border patrol agents' annual salaries are almost equivalent to salaries of military service members. Base starting salary for a new border patrol agent is $38,000. Annual pay for military service members with three years of military service is about $43,000.

Considering that estimates for federal money paid out to assist illegal immigrants topped $10 billion in one year (in 2002), even doubling the number of veterans hired as border patrol agents would cost less than 10 percent of that federal money. Investing in veterans at our borders could decrease drug-trafficking and terrorist activity, and it could save money by allowing fewer illegal immigrants into the country.

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