- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

The U.S. Border Patrol’s largest union local has asked President Bush to put an end to the scores of Mexican military incursions into the United States that have put Border Patrol agents at risk of being injured or killed.

“It is disgraceful that Border Patrol agents are put in harm’s way and our government doesn’t do everything reasonably within its power to protect us from marauding Mexican soldiers and others,” said Edward “Bud” Tuffly II, head of Local 2544 of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) in Tucson.

“Without a forceful response to these illegal incursions, an agent will eventually be seriously wounded or killed. It is only a matter of time,” Mr. Tuffly said. “The incursions will not stop until the Mexican military units and their commanders are held accountable for their actions.”

In a letter Saturday to Mr. Bush, Mr. Tuffly asked the president to “take a strong stand against” Mexican military incursions.

He said Mexican soldiers have made hundreds of incursions into the United States and that some of them resulted in agents coming under gunfire and being detained at gunpoint.

“It is a documented fact that the Mexican military is corrupt and is involved in protecting drug cartels, smugglers and other criminals,” said Mr. Tuffly, a veteran Border Patrol agent.

The NBPC represents all of the agency’s 16,000 nonsupervisory agents. Mr. Tuffly’s local is the union’s largest, with about 3,000 members.

White House officials said Wednesday that they had not received the letter and referred inquiries to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

CBP spokesman Michael Friel acknowledged that the Mexican military has made incursions into the United States and said those incidents have been treated seriously and reported up the chain of command. He said protocols have been developed to ensure that the incidents are resolved as “quickly and safely” as possible.

“There is an international boundary for a reason and they are to be respected by both governments,” Mr. Friel said. “We take very seriously our role in working with our international neighbors to address and resolve these situations.”

Last week in separate letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Rep. Duncan Hunter raised what he described as “serious questions” about the Mexican military’s presence and activities along the southwestern border.

He made the comments in response to an Aug. 3 incident during which a Border Patrol agent was held at gunpoint by members of the Mexican military who had crossed the border into Arizona about 85 miles southwest of Tucson. The soldiers returned to Mexico without incident when backup agents responded to assist.

“The fact that the Mexican military is operating in such close proximity to the border, without any identifiable purpose, calls into question its activities and raises concerns about the vulnerability of our southern land border,” said Mr. Hunter, a California Republican who played a key role in the government’s efforts to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“When considering the frequency of incursions and the threat these encounters pose to our Border Patrol agents, it is critical that we take the necessary steps to ensure that Mexican military and law-enforcement personnel do not cross into the U.S. without our knowledge or consent,” he said.

Officials at Homeland Security also referred inquiries to CBP.

Mr. Friel noted that the ongoing construction of 670 miles of fencing along the southwestern border “will result in a clearer delineation of the international border” and a reduction in the number of incursions.

Last week, the State Department and the Border Patrol in Washington described the Aug. 3 incursion as a “momentary misunderstanding,” saying the Mexican soldiers did not know where they were and needed to make certain that the detained agent was who he said he was - although rank-and-file Border Patrol agents in Arizona said he was dressed in uniform and was driving a well-marked, white-and-green agency vehicle.

The incident occurred on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, a major corridor for smuggling humans and drugs.

Mr. Tuffly said the four Mexican military personnel who crossed into the United States on Aug. 3 did so after passing vehicle barriers that Homeland Security had erected at the border. The agent was in full uniform and was driving a fully marked Border Patrol vehicle, complete with red and blue lights, large green stripes down the side, and the large words “Border Patrol” on the sides and the rear of the vehicle, he said.

“A reasonable person would conclude that the soldiers knew exactly at whom they were pointing their rifles,” Mr. Tuffly said. “Had the agent panicked and fired a shot or attempted to flee in his vehicle, there is little doubt the Mexican soldiers would have opened fire.”

He described the State Department’s declaration that the incident was a “misunderstanding” as “unfortunate.”

“During past incursions, the Mexican government has denied it had soldiers in the area. They have blamed impostors, even when military Humvees were involved,” he said. “Time after time they have gotten away with these incursions and time after time our government has not taken a forceful stand against them.”

Mr. Hunter said in his letters that 43 Mexican military incursions have been reported in the past 10 months and more than 200 since 2006. In the letter, he asked what action the Homeland Security and State departments were taking “to address the incursion … and limit or prevent the likelihood of similar incidents in the future.”

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