Donald Trump Wants to Waste a Lot of Money on New Border Patrol Agents

In the LA Times today, Christine Stenglein and John Hudak warn that enlarging the border patrol won’t be easy:

Customs and Border Protection last year awarded a $297 million contract for assistance in recruiting and hiring the 5,000 border patrol agents President Trump believes we need to combat “the recent surge of illegal immigration at the southern border with Mexico.”

Those bold numbers may please the Make America Great Again crowd, but it will be exceedingly difficult to find qualified agents, or to deploy them effectively since the border is actually quieter than ever. Under the Clinton administration, it took 27 applicants to yield one Border Patrol officer. And the hiring ratio has gotten worse. This spring, when Customs and Border Protection requested bids for private contractors to help fulfill Trump’s order, it wrote that it now takes 133 applicants to hire one full-time employee.

Not only is it harder than ever to find qualified agents, it’s not clear why we need them in the first place. Here’s what border apprehensions look like over the past decade:

Apprehensions went down substantially during President Obama’s first three years in office. Was this due to the Great Recession or to tougher enforcement? Some of both, I think, but the recession must not have been a huge factor since the 2008-11 decline merely continued a trend that started under the Bush administration—and apprehension numbers have stayed low ever since, even as the economy has expanded. In President Trump’s first year, apprehensions went down even further.

Here’s what this means in terms of Border Patrol staffing:

A decade ago, it took less than one-quarter of an agent to make an apprehension each month. Today it takes four times as many. And if Trump has his way, it will take five times as many.

This doesn’t make much sense. Illegal immigration is down, and it seems to be down permanently. Why do we need five times more agents per apprehension than we did in 2008? Not only is it dangerous to hire this many new agents at once, possibly at the cost of lowering standards, but it seems like a waste of money too.