Late last month, amid a heated presidential contest and mounting calls to protect the country’s southern border, the Bush administration unveiled plans to crack down on the estimated 550,000 people who illegally enter the country from Mexico each year. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced they would create a virtual fence along sections of the Mexican border. Fines for employers who hire illegal immigrants will increase by 25 percent. To enforce the crackdown, the U.S. Border Patrol will continue to swell its ranks, with an expansion of nearly 40 percent planned during the next two years.

Border Patrol agents are coming to Durham this weekend in search of people who want to go to the front lines of the immigration debate. The Indy interviewed Victor Colon, a Border Patrol agent and recruiter based in Miami, about the agency’s Triangle recruiting effort.

Much of your recruiting literature focuses on preventing terrorists from entering the country, but won’t most new recruits be searching for Mexican and Latin American immigrants crossing the country’s southwest border?

Customs and Border Protection is a part of the Department of Homeland Security. The first mission for all the agencies that work under DHS is to prevent terrorism. The U.S. Border Patrol’s first mission is to prevent terrorists from entering the United States or weapons or things that cause harm to the U.S. In addition to doing that, we’re going to do our traditional missions, which is to ensure that people or migrants or things or narcotics or smugglers are not trying to enter the country illegally. We recruit nationwide, but when you start, your career it is going to be along the southwest border.

It sounds like the vast majority of your resources are in the Southwest.

As of Sept. 1, the Border Patrol has 14,600 agents on board. And they’re on track to add another 2,500 for fiscal year 2007 and another 3,000 agents for fiscal year 2008. We have less than 2,000 agents up north and in the hundreds along the coastal sections. The great majority are on the southern border.

How much interest do you get from an area like Research Triangle Park?

North Carolina is an area that the border patrol has been looking atactually that whole regionwith the NASCAR sponsorship. We have a car in NASCAR that we’re sponsoring and we sit in booths and actively recruit candidates.

How has the response been to that?

It looks like it’s going well because we are getting applicants.

With tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants coming here to work in construction and agriculture, North Carolina is a place that has a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment, which some might stereotypically connect with folks who like NASCAR. Is the Border Patrol playing on that to win recruits?

We’re not playing on, as you say, stereotypes. What you’re not saying is that there are patriotic Americans all over the country. There are proud Americans in the Carolinas that perhaps don’t know of the Border Patrol that would like an opportunity to have a federal law enforcement position.

What kinds of people are good at this job?

You have to love the outdoors. People who can work alone. People who are able to learn another language. To relocate. Who enjoy diversity and new things. There’s always something happening on the border. It’s a dangerous job, but it’s a very fulfilling job to know that you’re helping protect America.

The recruiting event will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at the Marriott in Research Triangle Park, 4700 Guardian Drive, Durham. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and residents for the past three years, between the ages of 18 and 39 and able to pass a background investigation. For more information, see