Border Patrol ventures to county fairs, country music festivals to recruit agents

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- Tens of thousands of fans came to the WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, for the country music. Customs and Border agent Tony Thortsen, however, came to the WE Fest for the tens of thousands of fans.

Festival-goer Crystal Bridgers was intrigued by the recruiting booth. 

"I was shocked that this was here," she said. "I never really thought I'd get a job here."

The agency -- an arm of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) -- has struggled to hire the 5,000 agents President Trump requested to help secure the Mexican border. So the CBP got creative and is venturing into the heartland to Spartan Races, county fairs and country music festivals.

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U.S. Border Patrol's recruiting booth.  

CBS News

Former Army infantryman Shane Flodeen says it makes sense.

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Shane Flodeen

CBS News

"There's a lot of people here, they love this country. You'll see American flags scattered through every camp site you go to," he said.

But the agency is also having a hard time finding applicants who can pass a polygraph test. By its own admission, 75 percent of them failed. The agency now offers a shorter polygraph test, and allows waivers from the test for law enforcement and the military.

"We looked at all the steps in the hiring process," said Acting Deputy CBP Commissioner Ronald Vitiello.

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Acting Deputy CBP Commissioner Ronald Vitiello

CBS News

"We're looking for people who are looking to do important work on behalf of the country and protecting America and that can make it through the hiring steps," he said.

But the last time Border Patrol aggressively increased recruiting, after 9/11, the CBP didn't have polygraph tests. It was plagued by corrupt and violent agents

Vitiello said that's why finding the right recruits, who can handle the rigors of what can be a lonely and sometimes intense job, is crucial.