- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

Part one of five

BOCA CHICA, Texas Today, more than 10,000 illegal aliens will cross into the United States from Mexico.
About one in three will be caught, and many of them will try it again as soon as tomorrow. Nearly half of those who make it will become permanent U.S. residents.
Starting here at the mouth of the Rio Grande, east of Brownsville, Texas, and stretching 1,940 miles west to the Pacific Ocean at the Border Field State Park, south of Imperial Beach, Calif., the "undocumentados" will undertake any challenge to gain entry into the United States.
More than 3 million illegal aliens will attempt this year to penetrate a thin green line of U.S. Border Patrol agents, armed with the newest technology and latest equipment but with fewer than 2,000 agents on actual "line watch" duty at any given time.
The agents will arrest more than 1 million of those who try to cross into the United States, the vast majority of whom will be sent back to Mexico.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks on America, there is also a growing recognition that others snared at the U.S.-Mexico border are from places other than Mexico: the Middle East, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, and Central and South America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and Europe.
Despite the staggering numbers and growing concern about border security, illegal immigration continues to be a political hot potato with little meaningful effort under way in Washington to control the problem.
Republicans continue to look at illegal immigrants as a source of would-be workers; Democrats view them as potential voters; and employers face little or no penalty for hiring them despite polls showing that 77 percent of Americans say the government is not doing enough "to control the border."
A major reason the Bush administration has not aggressively confronted the problem of illegal immigration has been its emphasis on courting the emerging Hispanic vote to offset the Democratic Party's traditional hold on black voters.
With a new enforcement strategy firmly in place that focuses on deterrence, along with detection and arrest, the visibility of the 9,000 agents assigned along the U.S.-Mexico border has increased significantly in what the agency calls a front-line deployment aimed at reducing burgeoning immigration numbers.
A monthlong investigation of illegal immigration and its impact, including a three-week tour of the U.S.-Mexico border, found that while the new strategy has resulted in a decline in crime and an upgraded quality of life in border towns in Texas and California, record numbers of illegal aliens continue to find their way into the United States.
Federal, state, city and county law-enforcement authorities, along with civic leaders and immigration analysts, said hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens remain undeterred and undetected each year. The new Border Patrol strategy has resulted in illegal aliens shifting their migration patterns to other loosely protected border regions, both urban and remote, mostly in southern Arizona.

A new strategy
Since the strategy's birth in 1994, the illegal alien population in the United States has grown from an estimated 5 million to between 9 million and 11 million.
The Border Patrol says the new strategy remains unfinished. It says the agency will continue to control and deter the entry of illegal aliens in those areas now targeted and, eventually, the plan will expand to include the entire Southwest border.
"The new strategy is the smart way of doing business," said Luis E. Barker, chief of the Border Patrol's El Paso sector, where the apprehension of illegal aliens and the crime rate both have dropped. "It is an effective immigration strategy that improved the quality of life in many border communities almost overnight.
"What we have now is a work in progress," he said. "Eventually, we hope to have full coverage all along the border."
Chief Barker, who directs operations at a dozen Border Patrol stations and is responsible for 125,000 square miles of territory, including all of New Mexico and two West Texas counties, said the new strategy calls for "prevention through deterrence" and was designed to elevate the risk of apprehension to a point where illegal aliens "considered it futile to enter the United States."
Border Patrol Agent Emilio Gonzalez, a field operations supervisor at the Brownsville station, said the new strategy has been responsible for a significant decline in crime and violence in much of the historically high-crime regions of South Texas.
Mr. Gonzalez noted that the crime rate in Brownsville, inundated by illegal immigration and violence just five years ago, dropped last year by 20 percent.
"The new strategy is working," Mr. Gonzalez said. "We needed to be proactive, instead of reactive, and that's what this strategy is all about."

Trouble with recruitment
President Bush's 2003 budget includes $6.3 billion for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which oversees the Border Patrol, an increase of $1.2 billion over fiscal 2002. Of that, $712 million is for border enforcement, including funds to hire 570 new agents.
INS officials have said the new border strategy could require as many as 14,000 agents to be fully implemented. Federal authorities said that goal is attainable by 2010, assuming that 570 new agents are hired each year between now and then, and that every one of them is assigned to the Southwest border.
But the Border Patrol has not been able to recruit and retain enough qualified applicants to meet the strategy's needs mainly because of low salaries and the isolated nature of the job. The agency also suspended hirings in 2000 for a time, concerned that the ratio of inexperienced-to-experienced agents represented a risk.
Many veteran agents have quit for better-paying law-enforcement jobs, particularly as air marshals, where journeyman salaries based on the applicant's experience and background can range as high as $80,800. Border Patrol agents will start at between $30,000 and $37,000.
Several law-enforcement authorities, civic leaders and immigration analysts believe that 20,000 Border Patrol agents or more will be necessary to control illegal immigration on the Southwest border more than double the number now on duty and 6,000 more than the INS has proposed.
Some members of Congress even want the U.S. military to be involved, assigned to patrol the border's more remote areas in an effort to turn back what they have described as an invading army of illegal aliens.
"The time is right to call for troops on the border in order to protect our national security interests," members of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus have told Mr. Bush.
The number of Border Patrol arrests annually have remained fairly constant since 1995, when 1.2 million illegal aliens were apprehended. Since then, the arrests have totaled 1.5 million in 1996; 1.4 million in 1997; 1.5 million in 1998; 1.5 million in 1999; 1.6 million in 2000; and 1.2 million last year.
About a third of the arrests this year will occur in the Tucson sector, which covers 89,000 square miles in central and eastern Arizona and is responsible for 261 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, Tucson agents apprehended 449,675 illegal aliens, more than 1,200 a day.
The Arizona-Mexico border, now nearly in chaos, has become the focal point of both the illegal immigrants headed north and the U.S. government's attempt to turn them back. On any given night, as many as 600 illegal aliens might rush the 14-foot-high fence separating Douglas, Ariz., from its neighbor, Agua Prieta, Mexico.
Apprehensions of illegal aliens in Douglas, a community of 13,600 on the southeastern edge of Arizona, jumped from 25,000 in 1994 to 275,000 in 2000 in the wake of a shift in the immigration corridors caused by the Border Patrol's new enforcement strategy.
As a result, Agua Prieta is now known as the "people smuggling capital of Mexico" and, federal authorities say, more airline passengers arrive in that city each year with one-way tickets than at any other destination in Mexico.

The threat of 'coyotes'
More than 400 "guesthouses" are filled with Mexican nationals and others waiting to be taken by alien smugglers, known as "coyotes," into the United States.
"Everyone tells you about Douglas, but until you actually see it for yourself, there's no way you're going to believe what's happening down here," said Willie Barber, a field operations supervisor at the Douglas station.
"It seems that when the sun goes down, someone flips a switch and yells, 'Go,'" he said.
Once successfully over the border, the illegal immigrants head west, north and east to find jobs from willing employers, many of whom make little effort to verify the immigration status of workers they hire despite threatened criminal fines and imprisonment.
The smugglers, now mostly organized into criminal gangs, have reaped millions of dollars in profits. Some of them not only collect a fee up front, but then rob, beat and rape the illegal immigrants once in the United States.
Chief Barker said it is the alien smugglers who are at fault for a rise in the deaths of immigrants trying to cross the more remote areas of the border, subjecting the aliens to danger to avoid apprehension and prosecution.
"We do not control the push or pull factor," he said. "The smugglers have been forced to look for other areas to cross, and they care nothing about the safety of these people.
"And despite an aggressive advertising campaign on both sides of the border telling the immigrants not to come and warning them that they could be in serious jeopardy because of the harsh terrain and weather, they continue to come," he said.
The Border Patrol's new strategy of deterrence was formulated in 1994 to disrupt over a multiyear period traditional immigration corridors on the Southwest border. The concept was first advanced by Silvestre Reyes, former Border Patrol sector chief in El Paso and now a Democratic U.S. congressman from Texas, who wanted to maximize the effectiveness of his field agents with a plan of forward deployment.
Mr. Reyes' plan has since evolved into the agency's new border strategy, which has three major objectives:
Increased resources at strategic locations along the Southwest border to deter illegal activities, forcing aliens and drug smugglers into areas where it is more difficult to enter this country or to go undetected.
Lesser resources in the remote border areas, where the agency seeks to reroute illegal activities. These zones would be more difficult for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers to use because of the harsh terrain and weather.
A reduction in migrant deaths in the border's remote regions by keeping records of problem areas, posting warning signs of the likely dangers, training personnel in lifesaving techniques, rescuing those in distress, and increasing public awareness of the dangers of the Southwest border.

A failed strategy

Many field agents, however, do not believe the strategy of deterrence works, saying the illegal aliens headed north are finding new routes or are being directed by alien smugglers to more remote areas, where they are less likely to be detected.
"The plan simply can't stand on its own," said one veteran agent. "These people will stop at nothing to get into the United States. Why should anyone assume that just because they can see more of us, that they're not going to look for other ways to get into the country."
Another agent, a 15-year veteran, said any system of deterrence along the border has to be accompanied by a stringent enforcement of employer sanctions, but added, "That's just not happening.
"As long as these people have a place to go to get a job and there is no penalty for the employers, you're not going to stop anyone no matter how many people you station along the border," the agent said. "They'll keep coming into this country, find jobs and wait for the next amnesty offer."
Another longtime agent said the new strategy had contributed to a rising attrition rate now at about 15 percent within the Border Patrol, adding that the agents no longer were allowed to pursue illegal aliens, but were assigned instead to "static and boring" positions on the line.
"They want us to be seen and not heard," he said. "Well, I think they're beginning to hear a lot of doors slam as the agents leave for other jobs."
Since the implementation of the new strategy, illegal immigration arrests have dropped and crime rates have declined in three Border Patrol sectors San Diego and El Paso and McAllen, Texas. The three sectors, which account for 775 miles of the international border, arrested about 330,000 illegal aliens last year, down from nearly 425,000 in 2000.
"The change in strategy has improved our ability to detect and prevent illegal immigration, and has allowed the people to take back several border towns lost in a flood of illegal aliens and rising crime," said Cruz Rodriguez, chief of the Border Patrol's Fort Brown station in Brownsville part of the McAllen sector.
"Brownsville was a no man's zone. People were afraid to go out at night. Merchants were being vandalized and prostitutes, many of them illegal aliens, roamed the city at will," Chief Rodriguez said. "That has changed here and in other cities all along the border."
Before 1993, there was no comprehensive plan for controlling the U.S.-Mexico border and the number of agents was woefully lacking fewer than 800 on "line watch" duty at any one time. They lacked equipment and vehicles, and what they did have most often was in need of repair.
As a result, millions of illegal immigrants crossed the border undeterred, as did tons of illicit drugs.
Under the new strategy, the Border Patrol's system of detection and arrest was replaced by one focusing on deterrence, a systematic and highly visible approach that sought to restrict the passage of illegal aliens and drug smugglers by elevating the risk of apprehension.

The importance of deterrence
The plan initially targeted a five-mile stretch of border near Imperial Beach, Calif., south of San Diego, that accounted for 25 percent of all illegal border crossings nationwide. Known as Operation Gatekeeper, the new strategy forced the illegal aliens to seek other northbound routes.
Before Gatekeeper, the entire San Diego sector accounted for 45 percent of all apprehensions nationwide. Last year, San Diego arrests reached a 28-year low and its share of the nation's apprehension total was just 9 percent. With the success of Gatekeeper, the Border Patrol expanded Operation Hold the Line and Operation Rio Grande, both in Texas, and Operation Safeguard in Arizona.
Under the new strategy, agents are positioned with their lights on in highly visible locations only yards from each other and the border, backed by hundreds of pole-mounted video cameras and generator-powered lights. The agents call the assignment "Sitting on an X."
The day-night vision cameras are linked to command centers equipped with video monitors, which allow agents to scour the southern edges of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Thousands of sensitive electronic sensors, hidden along hundreds of miles of suspected alien trails, send signals when triggered to designated cameras.
Command-center personnel immediately can dispatch field agents to intercept the illegal aliens or drug smugglers.
"The visibility of the agents, the lights and cameras, the sensors, they are all part and parcel of the whole concept of deterrence," said Mr. Barber in Douglas. "You can run from the cameras, but you can't hide. We are here, and we're bigger than you can eat."
Hundreds of miles of fences of every shape and form have been erected along the border, many by the agents themselves. The fences often are built at sites described as the most difficult topography in the country.
Inside the fences, illegal aliens are being tracked by agents in trucks, cars, aircraft, boats, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles and on horseback. Agents adept at the art of "sign cutting," the detection and interpretation of disturbances in natural terrain, spend hours on foot tracking aliens through some of the country's most hostile environments.
The illegal immigrants also are being targeted by agents and specially trained dogs at highway checkpoints along main and back country roads in the four border states. The Border Patrol believes permanent checkpoints are a valuable tool in controlling illegal immigration and the flow of drugs into the United States.
Some lawmakers, including Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, want to prohibit the building of permanent checkpoints in Arizona, and have included language in various appropriations bills to block their construction.
"If it's permanent, then everyone knows where the checkpoint is and will just go around it," Mr. Kolbe said in a statement. "Furthermore, a permanent checkpoint would utilize money that could be used towards additional vehicles, night-vision gear, sensors, lights, fencing or other equipment on the border."
But the Border Patrol says permanent checkpoints operating in California, New Mexico and Texas serve as the third tier of defense and deterrence for unauthorized crossings by illegal aliens and account for a large share of all drug seizures along the southwest border.
Two of the country's busiest checkpoints in San Clemente and Temecula, Calif. last year accounted for the arrests of 9,139 illegal immigrants and the seizure of $12.8 million in drugs, about 40 percent of all the drugs seized by agents in the San Diego sector.
The House Select Committee on Homeland Security, in a pending bill to establish a Department of Homeland Security, recommended $125 million for border security initiatives, including resources for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to improve its border checkpoints.
A Congressional Research Service report concluded that permanent checkpoints give motorists advance notice that the roadblock affected all traffic, and reduced or eliminated the risk of "wholly unfettered executive discretion" that could exist with roving checkpoints.
"Checkpoints limit field agents' discretion in stopping vehicles in that administrators decide on the roadblock's location," the CRS report said. "Field agents can only stop cars passing through the checkpoint. As such, motorists are subjectively reassured that they are not being randomly harassed."
"It's a shame we have not been able to take advantage of a law-enforcement tool the courts have allowed us to use," said Ronald D. Vitiello, acting chief of the Border Patrol's Nogales station in Arizona. "It's only an inconvenience to the alien and drug smugglers, and it allows us to control the border and make arrests."
But while the agency has returned stability and order to some border towns, the flood of illegal aliens continues. Their impact on federal, state and local law enforcement, public education and social services, including dozens of border hospitals and health clinics, has been staggering.
Meanwhile, new immigration corridors have been established, many of which now run through hostile desert terrain in southern Arizona, where there is little or no water and summer temperatures can soar to 120 degrees. Deaths of aliens in those regions, including women and children, have increased.
One of the deadliest areas is a 190-mile stretch of Arizona border between Douglas and Lukeville, where 78 illegal immigrants died in 2001.
Carlos X. Carrillo, assistant chief of the Tucson sector, said that while the numbers remain high in his area, the new strategy of deterrence is working and, eventually, will have an impact along the Arizona-Mexico border.
"The greatest challenge we face is the sheer vastness of the border," said Assistant Chief Carrillo. "But when manpower and resources were made available, we immediately realized a great deal of success bringing security and a sense of community to many border areas that had constantly been subjected to chaos.
"We are now resourced at a level where we are actually having an impact. We are trying to stop a flow of activity that has developed over many decades, and every year we've seen some progress," he said. "It's one thing to be overwhelmed and quite another to be in control."
Assistant Chief Carrillo said the September 11 terrorist attacks on America "opened the eyes of many people" and there was a renewed interest in border security. He said the public, as a result of the strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, became aware of problems that were "common knowledge along the border."
"As a result, we got increased manpower, technology and money," he said. "Now it's up to us to get the job done."

Part Two: "We are overwhelmed."

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