Vice President Pence tours training facility in Harpers Ferry

Touts border security concerns during visit

Photo by Ron Agnir U.S. Customs and Border Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan, left, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence listen to U.S. Border Patrol agents prior to a border wall scenario demonstration at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Facility Wednesday morning in Harpers Ferry.

HARPERS FERRY — The vice president of the United States Wednesday toured a training facility in West Virginia where he urged listeners to “stand up for border security.”

Vice President Mike Pence was joined by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Kevin McAleenan on a tour of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Facility in Harpers Ferry.

“The work (CBP is doing) is more important and frankly more challenging than ever,” Pence said at the end of his tour before an assembled crowd of agents-in-training and U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va.

“As all of you know, our nation today faces an undeniable security and humanitarian crisis (on our southern border,)” Pence said.

Illegal immigration, drug smugglers, dangerous criminals, human traffickers and violent gang members are among the issues CBP deal with on a daily basis, Pence said.

Photo by Ron Agnir Vice President Mike Pence, middle, talks with U.S. Border Patrol Officers after they practiced live-combat training at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Facility Wednesday morning in Harpers Ferry.

However, Pence said the southern border also is struggling with a humanitarian crisis.

“For the first time ever, a majority of those attempting to come into our country illegally are families and unaccompanied minors,” Pence said. “They’re being enticed by drug cartel and human traffickers to make a long and dangerous journey north to our southern border.”

According to Pence, 70 percent of illegal immigrants apprehended at the southern border report being victims of violence along their journey. Pence also cited a Doctors Without Borders report that claims nearly one-third of all women from Central America are sexually assaulted during the journey to the U.S. border.

Pence said criminals are exploiting this vulnerable population to draw CBP’s attention away from the movement of drugs along other parts of the border.

According to Pence, the CBP has seen a 300 percent increase in the number of families apprehended since last year, and agents apprehended 268,000 illegal immigrants at the southern border since the beginning of the fiscal year, which he said is a 100 percent increase from last year.

“Every day we don’t secure our border we’re allowing the crisis to worsen and lives to be endangered,” Pence said. “Despite the extraordinary work (of CBP), drug cartels and smugglers are exploiting this crisis to flood drugs into our country, tearing apart families and claiming American lives”

Pence claimed drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for adults under 55 years of age, and in 2017, he said that 192 Americans lost their lives every day to an overdose.

“As (President) Trump has said in his words, ‘these are the heartbreaking realities that are hurting innocent, precious human beings every day on both sides of our border,’ and that’s why this president has taken decisive steps to act, to end this crisis on the southern border of the United States of America,” Pence said.

Pence thanked CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers for their work during the 35-day government shutdown at the start of the year. He said the president secured $1.3 billion to build 55 miles of physical barriers along the border following the shutdown, but Pence said it is not enough.

“That’s why earlier this week (President) Trump submitted a budget request to the Congress,” Pence said. “It called for fiscal discipline and discretionary programs, a record investment in national defense, and it called for $32.5 billion for border security –including an additional $8.6 billion to finish building that wall in the next year.”

Pence said the budget also included nearly half a billion dollars for additional CBP and ICE personnel.

“This crisis is affecting every community in America. President Trump and the entire administration are determined to … make sure (CBP has) the resources and support (it) needs to accomplish the mission (of securing the border),” Pence said.

During Pence’s tour of the facility, he and Secretary Nielsen greeted CBP trainees and instructors. Pence also observed training drills and tools at work.

CBP agents Pete Lobur and Christina Wroldson demonstrated how trainers utilize a state-of-the-art simulator for training.

The simulation was projected upon a panoramic photo of the desert, and Lobur illustrated the way he could manipulate the scenario. In one simulation, Wroldson portrayed an agent correctly controlling a roadside stop with a perpetrator in possession of a stolen vehicle.

“Right now you can see the simulator’s giving us the opportunity to branch this scenario out,” Lobur narrated. “Because we’re happy with the way this scenario is going, and we’re happy with (Wroldson’s) performance, we’re going to go ahead and give her a positive outcome and have him (the simulated perpetrator) comply.”

In the next scenario, Wroldson pretended to be an unfocused agent who lacked authority. Because the performance “wasn’t what (Lobur) was looking for,” he directed the simulated perpetrator to produce a negative outcome.

The vice president also observed combative training and customs border drills.

CBP agents drove three cars through their training facility while Pence was present. Each vehicle was stopped at the training border, and drivers were asked for identification. K-9 Balbina and K-9 handler Patrick Dowling also inspected the vehicles before they were allowed to continue.

While Pence was observing, agents staged a bust. Balbina and Dowling quickly found the bag of contraband in the trunk of the vehicle.

Pence surveyed the technology, tools and weapons CBP agents use to help protect and secure the border, and he watched as multiple agents practiced a scenario where objects were being hurled over the wall.

The agents-in-training strategically moved into position to rescue a fallen comrade. During the drill, trainees fired non-lethal tear gas at the perpetrator hurling objects over the wall.

Pence, Nielsen and McAleenan emphasized the importance of the work CBP does, and they thanked agents and trainees at every stop of the tour.