- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

Rep. Tom Tancredo, who spent three days this week touring parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, said yesterday he is convinced Mexican soldiers who cross the border and have shot at American officials are tied to drug smugglers.

"The amount of drug trafficking is becoming so intense, and that is always what's connected to these incursions," said Mr. Tancredo, Colorado Republican and the point man for immigration reform efforts in Congress, in a telephone interview after touring the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation in Arizona and the area near Calexico in California.

U.S. officials say Mexican soldiers repeatedly cross the international border and, in some instances, have fired on U.S. authorities.

In one border incursion on the reservation in May, a U.S. Border Patrol agent said Mexican soldiers in a Humvee with military markings shot at him, shattering the rear window of his Chevrolet Suburban.

As head of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, Mr. Tancredo has called on Mexico to take steps to prevent the incursions.

Mexican officials say they don't approve of incursions, but they question whether the reported incidents are really on the U.S. side of the border, and said the May shooting incident could have been drug runners disguised as soldiers.

Because of crackdowns elsewhere along the border, drug and immigrant smuggling has been funneled toward the 76 miles of the Tohono O'odham reservation's border with Mexico.

Mr. Tancredo said two border communities on the reservation San Miguel on the eastern side and Gu Vo, a village near Menagers Dam on the western side are controlled by drug cartels.

"They have intimidated the people in these two villages, or co-opted them, so they are actually participating," Mr. Tancredo said.

He said he saw 5-year-old children walking the village streets while stoned.

Mr. Tancredo talked with the Border Patrol agent who was shot at in May, and said there's no question the incident was on American soil.

He also doubted the soldiers were fakes, and said going through all that trouble to get uniforms and paint a Humvee would cost more than it would to pay off Mexican military officials.

He said officials caught one vehicle crossing the border the same day, confiscating 2,200 pounds of drugs, while another vehicle managed to escape back over the border. That incident convinces him the soldiers often are paid to protect the drug runners.

"There isn't a soul down there on that border, either Tohono O'odham police or Border Patrol, who do not believe that is exactly what they are doing," he said.

Reservation officials told Mr. Tancredo they caught 55,922 illegal immigrants between Oct. 1 and July 31 about 185 a day. But they estimated that about 1,500 persons cross their border each day.

"They are being invaded and that's exactly the way they put it," he said. "They do not know what to do, their whole life and lifestyle is just being absolutely destroyed."

The Colorado Republican said the solutions include erecting the same kind of walls, fences and cameras along the Indian reservation's segment of the border as exist elsewhere. He also wants the Mexican government to do more on its side.

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