As NBC 7's Dave Summers reports, the 2,200 agents in the San Diego region were told to report to work without pay while the government was closed in October 2013.
During the government shutdown, so-called non-essential employees were on furlough but U.S. Border Patrol agents were expected to report to work without pay.
The decision by the Department of Homeland Security hurt morale in the short term but there could be long-term effects that concern the safety of residents.
Arguably U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees hold the single most important security job in the country, protecting our borders.
Still the thousands of U.S. Border Patrol agents nationwide, 2,200 of them in the San Diego area, have been reporting to their posts without pay for the last 16 days.
If they refused to show up, they faced swift discipline.
During the shutdown Congress was quick to guarantee military pay for those protecting our interests abroad but for those protecting our borders, union representative Chris Harris said they did not receive the same guarantee.
“We kind of get lost in the shuffle or the loudness in the argument in D.C.,” Harris said.
“It is hard with the morale you don't really feel you are appreciated by your employer,” he said.
From the highest chief to rookie agents, Harris says the rank and file was reporting to work with even fewer sick and personal day requests.
“In private industry they couldn't do this. It is against the law; the Department of Labor would go after a company if they tried to do this to their employees,” Harris said.
Border agents have had to dip into savings and take out loans to get by. Most are young families with startup debt and college loans.
“We're still doing the best we can but to realize that 'Wow, I could be shot today but I'm really not getting paid for this,’” Harris said.
Retroactive pay does not heal all wounds.
Even with the government reopened, Harris says the rank and file is not convinced this is the last time they will be expected to work without pay.
Long-term government shutdowns make this job less attractive.
The best and brightest will look elsewhere, he said.
“The projection of our pay going down and then not being paid at all for a while, we're not going to attract the people we want to, a higher caliber people,” Harris said.
Despite working unpaid, healthcare, dental and loan payments if they borrowed from their 401 -K accounts are expected to be paid on time.