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Wanted: US border patrol agents, all ‘creeds, religions, ethnicities’

U.S. Border Patrol

U.S. Border Patrol agent Orlando Ruiz, left, greets an attendee at a Palatine job fair Thursday. He said that bad publicity regarding children being stripped from their parents at the border has not affected applicants. The attendee said that, at 39, she was too old to consider a career with the Border Patrol. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

The news might crackle with emotion, the cries both of detained children and partisan outrage. But the machinery of the federal bureaucracy whirs steadily onward, undeterred.

The Choice Chicago Career Fair held on the second floor of the Holiday Inn Express on Dundee Road in Palatine Thursday had tables handing out flying discs and water bottles, ballpoint pens and magnets. It included recruiters from Aflac and Grainger, the Nosh Group and Pet Health and, tucked between the First Student bus company and Just Energy, was United States Customs and Border Protection, handing out lanyards and Post-It notepads and looking for personnel to deploy to our nation’s southern border.

“On the whole southern border,” said Orlando Ruiz, an 8-year veteran, who is finding keen interest in CBP jobs. “Everyplace we go, we always do.”

Any why not? The thick glossy brochure titled “WE ARE AMERICA’S FRONTLINE” lists benefits from “10 paid holidays per year” to the federal retirement plan, not to mention “a priority mission of keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the United States.”

Starting pay can be as high as $50,000.

“As soon as you get out of the academy, you start making overtime,” said Ruiz. “Border Patrol makes 25 percent overtime per year.”

Border Patrol agents undergo 120 days of training.

“Because we are in the southern border, desert. It’s tougher terrain,” said Ruiz. “We need more training because we work outdoors. Sometimes when you’re down there you’re by yourself, covering five miles. It is difficult.”

The images of children being torn from their parents has not reduced interest in working for CBP.

“No, not at all,” said Ruiz. “This is a great career. Job security is hard to find.”

Indeed, none of the hopefuls I spoke with expressed anything other than enthusiasm and support.

“I graduated in ’09 with a bachelor’s in psych and criminal justice,” said Nicholas Hill, 32, who went to Aurora University. “I’ve always been fascinated by criminal behavior and the social environment. Especially as it appeals to drug use and crime. This is definitely something that caught my eye.”

U.S. Border Patrol agents Orlando Ruiz (left) and Bill Burke, shaking hands, were at the Holiday Inn Express in Palatine on Thursday talking to job seekers interested in protecting our country’s southern border. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

“Things are going really good,” said Bill Burke, a 21-year veteran of the border service, sent with Ruiz from CBP’s Detroit office.

“We are interested in anyone who is interested in law enforcement and willing to serve their country. We take all creeds, religions, ethnicities.”

Most attending the fair are too old for CBP agent work — they take applications from those 18 to 40, though there is no upper cut-off for U.S. military veterans. A few younger job seekers couldn’t apply because they are not U.S. citizens. Some stopped to talk even though they aren’t eligible.

“I think I’m too old,” said Lisa Stuckel, 56, who is looking for a job in health care customer service, but nevertheless to the opportunity to talk to the agents and praise CBP’s work. “I gave them credit for what they do for us. Praise God. For so long, our country, it got so … people coming and coming and coming when they shouldn’t be, shouldn’t be shouldn’t be. Our country’s not safe. It’s getting better … safer than it used to be.”

The Border Patrol has about 19,000 officers. According to the General Accounting Office, by centralizing recruitment and attending job fairs such as this one, the CBP was able to triple its number of job applicants between 2013 and 2017.

“Every day, CBP protects the public from dangerous people and materials attempting to cross the border, while enhancing the nation’s global economic competitiveness by enabling legitimate trade and travel at ports of entry,” said Kris Grogan, a CBP public affairs officer out of the Detroit office, which sent Ruiz and Burke. “On a typical day, CBP makes 900 plus apprehensions and seizes 9,000 plus pounds of illegal drugs.”

Those interested in a career with the Border Patrol can go to www.cbp.gov/careers.

Choice Career Fairs is a Nevada-based company that holds about 200 events a year, nationwide. CBP participation “goes in spurts,” according to Choice spokesman Mike Brown. “They went silent for a bunch of years, but they’ll be at all our Texas events next month.”

The key factor is the budget, up under Donald Trump.

“He’s putting money and time on the border and us,” said Ruiz. “Before we were more tied up. Now, they just opened a …”

And here he laughed. I assume he was going to say, “vein.”