The image is a powerful one: an army of armed law enforcement officers stationed along the border, impeding the flow of undocumented immigrants,illegal drugs, and human trafficking into the country.
But there's another view that the public often doesn't see: these same federal officers, offering humanitarian aid and assistance to countless immigrants who end their journey to America exhausted, dehydrated, and injured.
"Border Patrol isn't heartless. We go out there to do a job, but at the same token, we're human beings," said Robert Russell, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1929, which represents Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas.
Russell and other employee representatives discuss the rescue and relief efforts of law enforcement officers stationed along the border in a new video being released today by AFGE.
The video is the second in the union's "Walking the Line" series, which highlights the often harsh realities faced by Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in securing the southern US border.
The flood of immigrants crossing the border along the Rio Grande Valley this year has far outpaced the resources to house and care for them. As a result, Border Patrol and ICE agents have been giving of their own time and money to care for them.
"You'll see agents carrying out infants, you'll see agents giving up money to buy formula, buy diapers. I've seen agents carry out old women on their back," said Robert Pepperdine, vice president of AFGE Local 2544 in Tucson, Arizona.
Border Patrol staff includes emergency management technicians, paramedics, and search and rescues teams whose jobs entail caring for immigrants who encounter trouble while attempting to cross the border. Rescue beacons stationed in the desert allow migrants to call for help at the push of a button.
Many undocumented immigrants attempt to cross the border with only a liter of water, barely enough to survive an hour in the excruciating heat, said Derek Hernandez, vice president of the AFGE National Border Patrol Council's Western Region.
"If we wouldn't have come across them at that time, chances are they probably would have perished out there," Hernandez said.
AFGE's National Border Patrol Council is the exclusive representative for more than 17,000 Border Patrol agents and support personnel. AFGE's National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council represents about 7,600 ICE officers, agents and employees.
Source: American Federation of Government Employees, afge.org