PRESIDIO, Texas (KTSM) – About a four-hour drive east from the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso is Presidio, Texas.
With a population of a little more than four thousand people, this border city is what you’d imagine as the “wild wild west.”
“The Presidio station is probably the best well-kept secret in the entire Border Patrol.” -Derek Boyle, Patrol Agent-in-Charge
From San Diego to the Rio Grande Valley, the Big Bend sector is responsible for 25% of the Southwest Border. That’s more than 500 miles. The Presidio station is responsible for just under 114 miles, that’s the second most in the entire Southwest Border.
According to testimony from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Border Patrol reports remote stations present retention challenges.
Small town, big opportunities
The agents in Presidio say the distant location of their station works in their favor.
“I think spending a year or two or more here gives you more experience than at stations that are bigger and closer to the city,” says Agent Luis Ontiveros.
The reason why is less competition to get that extra certification. One example is the Horse Patrol.
Horses have been used to patrol the border in Presidio since 1924. Ninety-five years later and they’re still a vital asset to the job.
The Horse Patrol training program is one of the most difficult and also one of the most sought out by border patrol agents.
Agent David Vasquez says he selected Presidio as his station. Vasquez joined Border Patrol in 2015 and already is part of the Horse Patrol Unit, an assignment that would take much longer to accomplish in a larger station.
Given the terrain of this border sector, ATV’s are also used.
“It’s a lot different here, it’s not a concrete jungle.” – Eduardo Flores, Border Patrol Agent
For Agent Eduardo Flores, Presidio is his first station. He’s been an agent for seven years and is not only certified in both Horse Patrol and ATV’s but he’s also an ATV instructor.
“I probably wouldn’t have been to do that anywhere else so I’m very fortunate in that aspect,” says Agent Flores.
In larger Border Patrol stations, an agent may have to wait years before becoming ATV certified. In smaller stations, like in Presidio, an agent could be assigned straight out of the academy.
Despite all the opportunities available in remote towns, recruiting from major cities is tough.
According to Customs and Border Protection, in May, Border Patrol had 19,437 agents on-board, which is almost seven thousand (6,927) below the target level.
Presidio’s Patrol Agent-in-Charge says they’re looking to recruit more.
‘Old school’ type of patrol
Presidio has the only port of entry within the Big Bend Sector and unlike El Paso, there is no border barrier. It’s just the Rio Grande, the desert and the mountains.
Agents have to rely on a more “old school” type of patrol.
Much like the rest of the Southern Border, Presidio is seeing an increase in apprehensions. Boyle says a busy month is about 100 apprehensions. In the month of May, they had well over 700.
Agent Boyle says promotion opportunities also come quicker at a smaller station. He says more than 10% of agents at the Presidio station have been promoted this year.
“We like to say a lot of times that here at the Presidio station we’re building the future leaders of the Border Patrol,” says Agent-in-Charge Boyle.
As illegal border crossings rise, the Border Patrol is need of more manpower. To help with retention, the agency implemented its Operational Mobility Program in 2017. The program allows agents to transfer to new locations based on staffing needs. In April, CBP also announced a retention incentive equal to 5% of the base salary for GS-12 and GS-13 agents.