THE MAGAZINE

North By Northwest

By Matthew Harwood

“Whereas, in the past, the border patrol only rarely patroled an isolated area, now it has a sustained presence there because of resident agents,” says Brian Pigg, an assistant chief patrol agent out of the Grand Forks Sector.

The agency began the program in September 2009 on a pilot basis in the Grand Forks Sector, which consists of 861 miles that cross the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Under the pilot, 35 resident agents have been assigned to work in 12 remote areas near the border. The choice was partly risk-based but another factor was that “most of the locations are in or near county seats,” says Pigg.

The remote nature of the sites made the program challenging to develop and to implement. “Most of the towns along our border are very small [with] very limited infrastructure,” says Pigg. This meant Grand Forks Sector had to get creative with the program’s design.

First, there was the question of work space. In the interest of keeping the program low-cost, it was decided that resident agents would work out of their own home or apartment in that location. No new stations would be constructed. It was a low-cost solution that enabled the CBP to increase staffing with negligible impact on rural communities.

Another issue was communications. Some of these areas lacked the necessary wireless communications infrastructure. In response, resident agents have been given cellular boosters to address those connectivity issues. Agents also map their territory to learn where wireless hotspots exist so that they can use them to communicate with their supervisors, access CBP systems over their laptops, and transmit reports, says Supervisory Resident Agent Kathy Edwards.

Edwards, based out of Minot, North Dakota, described her resident agents’ job as about “one-third community relations, one-third assisting other agencies, and about a third gathering intelligence and gaining situational awareness from that.”
The benefits of the Resident Agent Program were apparent early on.

“We’ve exposed more communities to the border patrol and provided more education on border security to those communities in addition to just getting out there and patrolling the border and working with other law enforcement agencies.

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