- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

RIO GRANDE, Texas Jorge Gonzalez and David Torres guided their boat silently through the water, assessing the lines and shadows of the scrub trees and tall grass overpowering the river's banks.
Looking for movement, broken branches, matted grass or footprints, the two U.S. Border Patrol agents are the most forward-deployed unit in this country's newest enforcement strategy aimed at stemming the tide of illegal aliens coming across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Clad in heavy flak jackets, they are easy targets for smugglers of illegal aliens, drug traffickers and, occasionally, the Mexican Army, whose troops deployed along the border sometimes point their weapons at the agents as they patrol the river.
"We are the eyes and ears on the river," Mr. Gonzalez, a 27-year veteran, said as he moved the 18-foot-long boat with a 150-horsepower engine along the Rio Grande east of Brownsville. "Our main function is intelligence, and our job is to alert the ground units to suspicious persons and activities."
It is nighttime when the two agents navigate the winding, slow-moving river that separates the United States and Mexico, aided by night-vision goggles essential in the blackness that blankets the area's sparsely inhabited flatlands.
Only about 12 miles of river are navigable between the Gulf of Mexico and the Brownsville bridge much of the 53 "river miles" now are choked with wild hydrangea. The eastern flats of the Rio Grande here, west of an area known as Boca Chica, is a popular region for many alien and drug smugglers.
Tightly strung from the bow of the boat in a V-shape to the hardtop roof over the vessel's steering console is a heavy, braided, wire cable. It is used to cut the barbed wire that drug smugglers often string across the river in an effort to kill or injure the agents. The barbed wire is invisible in the darkness.
"It can get a little interesting out here, particularly when the Mexican military takes aim at you with automatic weapons or the drug smugglers try to kill you. You have to maintain your focus and be ready for anything," said Mr. Gonzalez, who has supervised boat operations for the Border Patrol here for the past five years.
"We are out here to be seen and to deter illegal activity," he said. "And despite the dangers, and there are many, we're doing what we love to do. We're helping our country and we're getting paychecks for it. What else could you ask for?"


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