US-Mexico_border_fenceWhen a union endorses a candidate for the first time in its 59-year existence, the move is notable. When an AFL-CIO-affiliated union casts that first endorsement for a Republican, the move is unheard of. But that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday when the National Border Patrol Council took this unprecedented step and endorsed real-estate mogul Donald Trump for president.

In a statement announcing the endorsement, the union detailed their reasoning. “We represent 16,500 agents who selflessly serve this country in an environment where our own political leaders try to keep us from doing our jobs. We think it is that important: if we do not secure our borders, American communities will continue to suffer at the hands of gangs, cartels and violent criminals preying on the innocent. The lives and security of the American people are at stake, and the National Border Patrol Council will not sit on the sidelines.”

Questions immediately arise in the wake of this unanticipated endorsement: Why Donald Trump? Why now? Why did the council remain out of the political fray for so many years? The answer is frustrating, but simple. Border Patrol agents are fighting a two-front war: one on our borders, and another against an oppressive federal government.

Not only has the Obama administration’s policy of non-enforcement made it difficult for agents to protect our nation’s borders, they have also made that task much more dangerous. Throughout the past seven years, non-enforcement and other scandals have weakened our borders and even resulted in the death of border patrol agents.

In December of 2010, gang members gunned down Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in a violent shootout near the U.S./Mexico border in Arizona. A number of the weapons found at the scene were part of the Obama administration’s infamous Fast and Furious operation that allowed Mexican cartel members to purchase firearms in order to trace their movements. The administration failed in this mission, and as many as 1,300 of the approximately 2,000 monitored firearms were lost. Adding insult to injury, federal prosecutors successfully campaigned to minimize the sentences handed down to agent Terry’s murderers.

In March of this year, the federal government issued a veiled threat to Border Patrol agents when they released a report demanding the agency dedicate more time to investigating officers concerning the use of force in handling violent situations on the border. This included a suggestion that hundreds of border patrol agents be assigned to internal investigative duty. The ominous warning came soon after the administration reinstated a controversial “catch-and-release” policy for illegal aliens that has already generated troubling results. The program mandates that law enforcement and border agents only focus on illegal aliens who have entered the nation after the beginning of 2014. Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, recently testified before Congress that Illegal aliens are catching wind of this directive, and understand that if they claim to have lived in the United States prior to 2014, they will most likely be released immediately without having to show any proof.

Judd also testified that the catch and release program has forced agents to let potentially dangerous illegal aliens go free, including a man apprehended near the northern border who was accused of felony domestic violence, but had not yet faced trial. “Under the law, he should have been set up for removal proceedings,” Judd testified. “But under the policy, he was let go. And he was let go even though he first proved that he cared so little about our laws that he entered the United States illegally, and once here, he proved further disdain by getting arrested for a serious violent act against another,” he continued.

These are only a few of the policies and directives enacted by the current administration that tie the hands of Border Patrol, increases the risks associated with their work and also encourages more illegal aliens to attempt the now low-risk journey into the United States. Our agents are working overtime to stop illegal immigration and other border crimes, but their bosses in Washington, DC poke holes in the border faster than they can be sealed.

Not everyone trusts or supports Donald Trump when it comes to immigration, and there are other candidates in the race who have made strong commitments on immigration as well. (Read FAIR’s analysis of Donald Trump’s immigration plan here) But it is unsurprising that the Border Patrol Union feels desperate enough to get involved in a political primary for the first time, risking their AFL-CIO affiliation by backing a Republican who is outspoken on an issue like Immigration. Because, for America’s Border Patrol agents, a candidate’s policy on border security can truly be a life or death issue.