Increased efforts to secure the U.S.-Mexico border against illegal aliens and drug smugglers have spurred an "unprecedented" rise in violence against U.S. Border Patrol agents, particularly in the San Diego area, where more than 100 assaults have taken place in the past two months.
"The deliberate, unmitigated violence against my agents is going to stop," San Diego Sector Chief Michael J. Fisher said in announcing the deployment of a special response team of agents authorized to use less-lethal munitions "to protect and defend themselves and other agents against life-threatening assaults being perpetrated by criminals in Mexico."
The munitions include steel batons and pepper spray for close-quarter confrontations; compressed air guns known as the Pepper Ball Launching system, or the PLS, as an intermediate tool; and an innovative device called the FN-303, a long-range, semiautomatic launcher that fires projectiles from a 15-round drum magazine.
The FN-303 is designed to incapacitate a target through blunt trauma without causing critical injuries. It can fire a projectile about 200 feet, compared with the 30-foot range of the PLS.
Border Patrol agents were attacked 987 times along the U.S.-Mexico border during the 12-month fiscal period that ended Sept. 30 — up 31 percent from 752 attacks a year earlier. It is the highest number of assaults since the agency began recording attacks in the late 1990s.
One out of every four assaults against Border Patrol agents along the 1,952 miles of border with Mexico occurred in San Diego, Mr. Fisher said.
Since October, the San Diego sector — which is responsible for 66 miles of international boundary with Mexico — recorded more than 100 assaults, nearly two a day, he said. The assaults included aliens and drug smugglers throwing large rocks at the agents, many of which were wrapped in cloth, doused in kerosene and set on fire, Mr. Fisher said.
He said other agents have been targeted by glass bottles, large pieces of wood and steel ball bearings fired from slingshots.
"To those who would argue that this violence is perpetrated by juvenile delinquents and that we should expect this as a 'cost of doing business,' I offer the following: Criminal organizations are hiring known criminals to cross into the United States illegally, create a diversion and lure our agents into an ambush," Mr. Fisher said.
"When our agents respond, the criminals use military-style tactics and triangulate their offensive, pinning down the agents in a violent assault," he said. "While the agents seek cover, the smugglers move people and contraband over the fence into our neighborhoods."