The Washington Post

The White House says there are more boots on the ground at the border than ever before. Are there?


During Friday's news conference, White House press secretary Josh Earnest reiterated a claim that the Obama administration has made in the past:

Keep in mind, this is on top of the historic investment that's already been made under this president's watch on the border. There are more resources and boots on the ground along the border than at any other time in our nation's history.

"Resources" is hard to quantify, but "boots" isn't. So is this true?

Customs and Border Patrol regularly releases data on its staffing levels. The most recent data spans the time frame from 1992 to 2013, before the current surge in border crossings that has become a focus of debate this past month. Overall, the number of "boots" on the border was down in 2013, compared to the high in 2011 -- from 21,444 border patrol agents to 21,391. (Or, really, 42,782 boots, assuming that all of the agents have two feet and wear the appropriate footwear.)


That includes every sector the CBP covers, though. And if you look closely, you can see that the number of agents in the northern sector (read: near Canada) dropped. Looking only at the agents that Earnest meant, the ones on the southern border, it looks like this (by region).

The year 2013 saw a new high in agents in the Southwest, reaching 17,590. (35,180 actual boots.)

Is this the all-time high, though? When President Obama made a similar claim in 2010, Politifact looked into it. As it turns out, when Pancho Villa raided New Mexico in 1917, the government sent at least 75,000 troops to the region's defense. Many of whom, we would imagine, wore boots.

And, since it’s a summer Friday, here are 42,782 emoji boots, two for each of the CBP’s 2013 agents.


Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.



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