Border Patrol agents will temporarily avoid mandatory furloughs and a loss of overtime hours that had been anticipated in the wake of budget cuts from the federal government, according to a memo distributed to members of the agency on Monday.
On March 1, a series of automatic cuts to federal spending went into effect, trimming the budget of Border Patrol along with the rest of the government. The cuts, known as sequestration, triggered worry that staffing along the border -- currently at the highest levels in U.S. history -- would be reduced, and that illegal immigration would increase.
The budget cuts complicated already complex negotiations around an immigration reform bill in Congress, particularly since any immigration deal will almost certainly include future funding for border security. A group of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate expect to have a bill ready for the public by next week.
The memo doesn't get into specifics about how U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which oversees Border Patrol, will be able to rework its budget to avoid slashing hours and related pay for agents, but Thomas S. Winkowski, CBP's deputy commissioner, addressed the postponement generally.
"As you are aware, President Obama last week signed into law an appropriations bill that funded CBP for this fiscal year. I have been working closely with our budget office in analyzing the bill," Winkowski wrote. "Although the budget reductions imposed by sequestration are significant, the bill's provisions allow CBP to mitigate to some degree the impacts of the reduced budget on operations and on CBP's workforce."
Winkowski wrote that previously planned furloughs and cuts to overtime would be postponed until the appropriations bill had been further analyzed. All 60,000 CBP employees were slated to receive furloughs, according to reports in March.
In a related statement issued on Monday, Border Patrol spokesperson Jenny Burke said that the agency "continues to assess the exact impact the legislation will have on our operations and our workforce."
Last week, President Obama sign an appropriations bill that boosted funding for Homeland Security, the parent department for CBP. At the least, the added funds appear to have postponed staffing cuts on the border.
The National Border Patrol Council, which represents agents, offered up a response that was both optimistic and combative:
"The National Border Patrol Council sees this as a result of the public outcry to secure this nation's borders and to fairly compensate Border Patrol agents," the statement read. "While the situation appears better for Border Patrol agents, we have seen CBP subvert the intent of Congress before. There can be no let-up in the pressure on CBP."