Inside Border Patrol's Training School

Over the next two years, President Bush wants to add thousands of agents to the U.S. Border Patrol, making it the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country.

Recruiting them is only half the problem — the other half is training them. CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan visited the Border Patrol's training ground in New Mexico.

Artesia is a place you're not likely to pass through. It's on the way to nowhere. But this town of just 15,000, south of Roswell, N.M, exports the one thing the President says the border needs most of all — future agents that will make up the additional 6,000 Border Patrol staff he wants by 2008.

"We're very confident we can do that," says Scott Luck, assistant chief patrol agent. But when asked, he agrees that the task is daunting. "Very daunting, yes," ha says.

Luck helps lead the U.S. Border Patrol Academy. It's the only place in the country that turns trainees into agents — and although the facility has spent millions on expansion projects — it's still not big enough to handle that many new recruits.

Problems in the past with wayward agents — arrested for drug trafficking and smuggling haven't helped the recruitment efforts. Neither has the length of time it takes to become an agent — 19 weeks, the longest training in federal law enforcement.

But there are still those willing to do it.

"We've had people that come in here with no educational background, people that come in here that are lawyers, attorneys, people with Ph.D's — all kinds," says Luck.

The demands of working along the border — which include things like off-road driving expertise, and being able to handle 90-mile-an-hour, high-speed chases — offer little room for error.

And real life scenarios bring the danger of this $30,000 dollar a year job home almost every day.

Trainees are issued a fake sidearm from day one.

"We have to treat it exactly the same, no taking it out of our belt and playing with it... it's always here, just like it'll be in the field," says Keven Ekkebus, a border patrol trainee.

But there is the mundane too, such as learning to deal with the boredom of guarding a solitary post for hours and conducting routine checks of vehicles.

Trainee Antonio Perez says that comes with the territory too.

"It's not for everybody and it just takes a very strong person to become a Border Patrol Agent," says trainee Antonio Perez.

The physical rigors of the course are a challenge to say the least — even for an ex-Marine like Matthew Dover.

"There's no free lunch here," he says. "You earn everything you get here with the Border Patrol."

But despite extensive background checks that take months to get through, not everybody gets a badge — or even a shot at one.

It's an uphill battle: Out of the hundreds of applications, only about 1 in 30 actually becomes an agent. Nearly 2 out of 10 drop out once they get here — not just because of the physical requirements, but the mental ones too.

Intensive Spanish language training is for many the most difficult part. More than 200 hours are required — a year's worth of instruction crammed into five short months.

Still, the academy expects to graduate 1,700 new agents this year — and unlike years past — most will stay in.

"The attrition in the field has actually gone down in recent years. We have been able to keep the folks that we have trained," says Luck.

He'll have to if the academy hopes to meet the President's goal.
Lee Cowan
  • Amy Clark

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