By Joseph J. Kolb
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (Reuters) - The U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans to hire 2,000 new agents over the next two years to step up security at ports of entry and to decrease wait times for travelers at airports and border crossings, the agency said in a statement on Thursday.
The new officers will bring the staffing level at the Office of Field Operations to 23,775 officers, an increase of over 9 percent from current levels, according to Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Erlinda Byrd.
The additional staffing is intended to enhance security, help reduce wait times and facilitate growing volumes of legitimate goods and travelers entering the United States.
The new hires are expected to deploy to 44 ports in 18 states including New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans as well as Laredo, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona, where their duties will include checking documents and searching vehicles and containers.
Brandon Judd, president of the U.S. Border Patrol union, expressed concern how this hiring surge will affect border posts in places considered less desirable for quality of life, such as in Ajo, Arizona.
"Over 100 Border Patrol agents from the Ajo station alone, a station that only has about 400 agents, have applied for many of these jobs and my brother is one," Judd said, describing the Ajo station as one of the busiest for illegal entries of both drugs and unauthorized immigrants.
"There are hundreds of other Border Patrol Agents from other stations that also have less than ideal living conditions that have applied for these CBPO jobs so they can move to areas such as Chicago, Illinois; Kansas City, Missouri; Seattle, Washington and many, many other areas that have arguably much better living conditions," he added.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)