As the number of undocumented immigrants apprehended along the U.S./Mexico border increases, the United States Border Patrol is looking for additional manpower to help strengthen its numbers.
An executive order from President Donald Trump called for the hiring of 5,000 agents to help bolster the Border Patrol’s numbers. An additional 2,750 agents and staff were called for, but earlier this year it was estimated that the federal agency was nearly 2,000 agents short of those marks.
To help in recruiting efforts, the Border Patrol partnered with the Professional Bull Riders Tour as a sponsor of both the tour and a team of four riders. It’s the second go-round for the USBP and PBR, and the hopes are that the added exposure of the Border Patrol to new eyes in places such as the Midwest could help bring new recruits into the government agency.
Recently, the Del Rio Sector of the Border Patrol hosted several of its sponsored riders and PBR personnel. Visiting Del Rio were bull fighter Shorty Gorham and professional bull rider, and 2018 rookie of the year, Keyshawn Whitehorse. The group was set to tour different stations along the border including Eagle Pass and Laredo and would be joined by veteran bull rider, and former George Paul Memorial Bull Riding champion Sean Willingham.
The group received a tour of the Border Patrol’s facilities and was able to take part in a variety of activities such as firearms training, field simulations and patrols both on boat and on horseback.
Whitehorse has been through Del Rio before, but hasn’t competed here. He said his family made trips through this area several times and he’s always felt that the scenery was beautiful.
According to many of the agents that accompanied the group, Whitehorse, who is Native American, seemed most at home atop the Border Patrol’s horses. He said that, too, was his favorite part of his time in Del Rio.
“One of the best parts of Del Rio is being welcomed by these guys. You get to be friends with each and every one of them right away. You see their personalities at work and away from work but also see how intense they get when they’re on the job,” Whitehorse said. “When I learned I was coming down here, I really kept an open mind because I wanted to see everything. I was super excited for the moment, and I’ve been able to see as much as I can while I’ve been down here.”
Whitehorse also said that being one of the Border Patrol’s sponsored riders is an honor for him and the other three riders.
“Out of the top 35 guys at the event, and in the world, there’s only four guys and to be one of those four guys means a lot,” Whitehorse said. “(Border Patrol agents) are the people’s protectors of this land and we’re representing that.”
Willingham was unable to be a part of the stop in Del Rio, but he later joined the group as it made its way to Laredo. A 23-year veteran of the sport, Willingham is currently recovering from a broken leg he suffered in Kansas City. He said he hopes to return to action in September.
In 2003, Willingham joined an exclusive club when he won the George Paul here in Del Rio. He said getting the chance to compete against some of the best in the world and coming out on top was something he’d never forget.
“The George Paul is one of the oldest, most recognizable bull ridings and it has been a destination for some of the best riders anywhere. Everyone wants to win the George Paul,” Willingham said. “I won it in 2003 and it really started my career. That win shot my career up to the next level. If it hadn’t been for that win I wouldn’t have been on tour or got started. It’s a very special win for me for a couple of different reasons.”
Willingham was one of the riders the Border Patrol sponsored in 2008, when the agency first partnered with PBR. He said was happy to come back to the team this year and is anxious to continue his career with them.
“I’m honored to wear their colors and represent them,” Willingham said. “It’s incredible. Being down here and see how the Border Patrol works … their job is very dangerous. Every day they’re out there keeping our border protected to make sure we can be safe and have the freedoms we do.”
Willingham said he and his fellow riders joined the Border Patrol on its horse patrol to help check the border. On the day he and the others were on their ride, the agents they were with apprehended seven men attempting to enter the country illegally. Willingham said an eighth person was sighted, but he swam back to Mexico.