Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Border Patrol chief yesterday apologized for saying the agency’s mission is stopping terrorists, not illegal aliens or drug smugglers, a stance that outraged congressional lawmakers.

“It’s painfully obvious to me that I could have done a better job of articulating my talking points,” said sector Chief Carlos X. Carrillo, who made the controversial comments last week at a town hall meeting in Laredo, Texas.

“As long as the resources are made available to the people who can make it happen, we will certainly do everything we can to ensure that a zero tolerance policy is brought forward. But to initiate a program like this, without the funding, would not be wise.”

Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican, was angered by Chief Carrillo’s comments and contacted him yesterday for clarification. Mr. Culberson, a member of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, said the Laredo chief apologized and promised to continue strict apprehension policies along the border.

“Chief Carrillo promised me that he will do his very best to implement Del Rio‘s zero tolerance policy,” Mr. Culberson said, referring to the Del Rio sector’s strong policies to incarcerate all illegal aliens caught in high traffic areas. “I promised the chief that we are totally committed to finding the funds that he needs to make that happen.”

Chief Carrillo said that Laredo needs funding to hire more prosecutors and U.S. marshals, and more jail-bed space before his agency can adopt the strict zero-tolerance policy.

Operation Streamline II, mainly implemented in the Del Rio sector, is a policy in which illegal aliens face prosecution if they cross the border and can receive a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail for the violation.

The Del Rio sector noted a 38 percent drop in the apprehension of illegal aliens in 2006 and a 52 percent reduction in 2007, Mr. Culberson said.

“This tough stand against illegal entry is working in Del Rio,” Mr. Culberson said.

Law-enforcement agencies consider Laredo to be one of the Southwest’s most dangerous border crossings with millions of dollars in narcotics transported through the area every month. It is the sister city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, which is controlled by the Gulf Cartel — one of Mexico’s most ruthless drug-smuggling rings.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and presidential candidate, who on Friday called for Chief Carrillo’s resignation, said that his apology is not acceptable. Mr. Tancredo said he wondered how the chief could tell the difference between an illegal alien and a terrorist.

“This is bigger than Carrillo,”Mr. Tancredo said. “It goes all the way to Chief David Aguilar and the whole management culture at DHS. I think this guy is speaking for his superiors. I’m concerned about the Border Patrol men and women who are finding it harder every day to do their jobs and I’m concerned with those whose close ties to Mexico run too deep.”

Chief Carrillo emphasized that Laredo Border Patrol agents have not given up on their mission to arrest illegal aliens or apprehend narcotics smugglers. He said agents in his sector have made 52,000 arrests of illegal aliens and have confiscated more than 62 tons in illegal narcotics this year alone.

“It was a two-hour town hall meeting,” Chief Carrillo said. “One of the issues we discussed was illegal immigration. I said the Border Patrol cannot address the causes of illegal immigration. We’re not supposed to address it. Our focus is enforcement, our focus is enforcement at the border.”

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