- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

The Border Patrol, given new prominence as a part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, seized more than $50 million worth of marijuana, cocaine and heroin last week in separate arrests from California to Puerto Rico.The seizures, over a three-day period, came during marine interdiction efforts in Puerto Rico and New York, checkpoint operations in Texas and line-watch duties in California. It involved more than 10,000 pounds of marijuana, 1,000 pounds of high-grade cocaine and 11 pounds of black tar heroin.Last week, Commissioner Robert C. Bonner, who heads the newly created Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, said the Border Patrol — long ignored as an agency within the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service — had been given a frontline role in protecting the country against illegal aliens, drug smugglers, terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.Mr. Bonner told The Washington Times that a “strong and effective” Border Patrol at the nation’s 300 ports of entry was essential in defending the borders, and as commissioner, he pledged to “give the Border Patrol my full support for its important mission.”“It has found a good home in the Bureau of Customs and Border Enforcement and will be supported in a way INS never did,” Mr. Bonner said.Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villarreal said agents at several locations discovered the drugs after various searches and other interdiction efforts.In Kingsville, Texas, he said, agents working the Sarita Immigration Checkpoint encountered a tractor-trailer on April 30 with 4,520 pounds of marijuana and 360 pounds of cocaine with a combined estimated value of $15.1 million. That same day, he said, agents in McAllen, Texas, seized from a van 1,074 pounds of marijuana with an estimated value of $860,000.Also on April 30, Mr. Villarreal said agents in Calexico, Calif., seized 632 pounds of marijuana valued at $506,280 near the Alamo River.A day earlier, he said, agents in Laredo, Texas, seized 2,642 pounds of marijuana valued at $2.1 million after a canine unit alerted to a tractor-trailer at a checkpoint along Interstate 35. Agents from the Kingsville Station also arrested one man at the Sarita checkpoint after a dog found 11 pounds of black tar heroin valued at $352,000 and 31 pounds of cocaine valued at $992,000, he said.That same day, Mr. Villarreal said, agents from the Ramey, Puerto Rico, station watched the occupants of a boat unload 14 bundles ashore near Survivors Beach, Puerto Rico, before sinking the vessel. He said the agents arrested four undocumented aliens from the Dominican Republic and seized more than 937 pounds of cocaine valued at $30 million.Also on April 29, he said, agents in Blythe, Calif., arrested one man transporting 292 pounds of marijuana valued at $233, 920 in the trunk of a passenger vehicle, while agents in Massena, N.Y., encountered a vessel on the Saint Lawrence River during marine interdiction operations, finding two duffel bags containing 49 pounds of hydroponic marijuana valued at $196,000.The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection unifies for the first time all the federal agencies responsible for border enforcement, protection and inspection in a single department. The new chain of command eliminates several layers of bureaucracy between inspectors and agents in the field and command staff in Washington.

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