- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

Mexican soldiers entered U.S. territory Friday in the latest in a series of armed incursions and appear to have shot at a Border Patrol agent.
Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said the agent was patrolling when he saw what he believed were three Mexican soldiers in a military Humvee on the U.S. side of the border south of Ajo, Ariz., Friday evening.
To avoid a confrontation, the agent did a U-turn in his Chevy Tahoe, which was marked with the patrol's green-and-white design, and drove away. As he was driving away, the vehicle's rear window was shattered by a single gunshot fired from the direction of the Humvee, Mr. Strassberger said.
The INS has begun an investigation and has asked the Mexican government to investigate as well.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who has raised the issue of incursions both on the House floor and to the Mexican government, said the raids must stop.
"The fact is that we know someone a member of the Mexican military fired at least one round at a member of the American Border Patrol and came close to killing him," Mr. Tancredo said. "If this kind of thing keeps up, somebody's going to get killed."
But Mexican officials are not convinced that the incident occurred on U.S. soil or that those who shot at the agent were Mexican soldiers.
Miguel Monterrubio, a spokesman at the Mexican embassy in Washington, said the matter was reported Friday to the general in charge at the Mexican army base in Nogales, Mexico. The general, along with Border Patrol officials and the consul general from the Mexican consulate in Nogales on the U.S. side of the border, went to investigate on Monday.
"According to them, there are no elements to note on which side of the border the incident took place because the incident took place at night," Mr. Monterrubio said, but he added that the investigation is continuing.
Mr. Tancredo, however, who has been in contact with Border Patrol agents familiar with the case, said the agent was fired at when he was five miles north of the U.S. line and that the persons in the Humvee were Mexican soldiers.
"There was no confusion with the people with whom we spoke about where they were and whether or not they were Mexican military," he said.
Mr. Tancredo said he has information that since 1996 there have been 118 incursions 61 of them by Mexican military and 57 by Mexican law enforcement. In 90 percent of the cases, the incursions appeared intentional, he said. Sixty percent of the time, the Mexicans were armed.
A Justice Department official, who asked not to be named, said there were reports of other incursions Tuesday night and yesterday morning.
In the first incident, an agent spotted at least six individuals in U.S. territory along the All American Canal in California who appeared to be Mexican officials, though he couldn't determine whether they were law enforcement or military, armed with machine guns. They recrossed the border into Mexico after a few minutes. Then, yesterday, an agent saw three people who appeared to be Mexican military officers carrying rifles at a different location along the canal.
Mr. Tancredo has written a letter to Mexican President Vicente Fox asking him to explain the incursions.
Both U.S. and Mexican officials say the region is a prime spot for drug couriers to enter the United States, which sometimes prompts incursions by soldiers tracking the drug-runners. Both sides say they are working together to try to reduce the forays.
But Mr. Tancredo said those efforts have fallen short, partly because Mexican officials don't have a grasp on the situation and partly because the U.S. government doesn't push the issue.
"We're afraid of pushing this issue too far because we recognize that if we can't rely on Mexico to curtail their own military or federal police, then we're going to have to put a lot more effort into securing our own borders, and that is the frightening thing," he said.


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