A U.S. Border Patrol agent attempting to arrest bandits who prey on illegal immigrants was killed during a gunfight about 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border near Rio Rico, Ariz., 60 miles south of Tucson.
Agent Brian A. Terry, 40, was waiting with three other agents in a remote area north of Nogales late Tuesday when the gunbattle with the bandits erupted. None of the other agents was injured, but one of the suspects was wounded.
Mr. Terry, who joined the agency three years ago and was a member of the Border Patrol’s elite Search, Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) team, died early Wednesday. Four of the suspected shooters were taken into custody. A fifth is still being sought.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano described the shooting as “an unconscionable act of violence” against those who serve and defend the country.
“Agent Terry was killed in the line of duty while confronting several suspects near Rio Rico, Ariz. It is a stark reminder of the very real dangers our men and women on the front lines confront every day as they protect our communities and the American people,” she said.
“We are working with other federal, state and local authorities to ensure those responsible for this horrendous act are held responsible,” she said. “We will leave no stone unturned as we seek justice for the perpetrators. We will honor his memory by remaining resolute and committed to the serious task of securing our nation’s borders.”
A Homeland Security official said Ms. Napolitano will travel to Arizona on Thursday and Friday to meet with Border Patrol agents and employees in Nogales and Tucson.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said the state was “shocked and saddened” by the shooting. She said federal and state authorities, including those in Arizona, would “continue to investigate and attempt to bring to justice those who are responsible for this heinous crime.
“Although we needed no reminder of the ever-increasing dangers along our southern border, this tragedy serves as stark notice that the threats facing all who serve in protecting our state and nation are real, and are increasing on a daily basis,” she said. “We need to pray for all those in uniform who perform duties that allow us to live in a safe and secure land.”<t-2>
U.S. Customs and Border Protection described the killing as a “tragic reminder of the ever-present dangers” CBP agents, officers and inspectors face as they protect the nation’s borders.
The shooting is being investigated by the FBI and the Santa Cruz County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Office. Bandits, usually Mexican nationals, have long roamed border areas, robbing and sexually assaulting illegal immigrants as they cross into the U.S.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Terry family for their tragic loss,” said CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin. “Our commitment to Agent Terry and his family is that we will do everything possible to bring to justice those responsible for this despicable act.”
Mr. Terry is the third Border Patrol agent to die in the line of duty this year. Agent Michael Gallagher, 32, died in July when his patrol vehicle was struck by another vehicle near San Miguel, Ariz., and agent Mark Van Doren, 40, was killed in May when his patrol car collided with a bull and a tree on a rural road near Rachal, Texas, while responding to a call.
Brandon Judd, president of Local 2544 of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents non-supervisory agents in the Tucson sector, including Mr. Terry, said the union believed the agent was killed by “illegal alien bandits north of Nogales during a shootout.
“By all accounts he was a fine agent,” Mr. Judd said. “This is one more example of the sacrifices made by front-line agents, and it’s a major reason we are continually outraged by activists and self-serving politicians in Washington, D.C., who sell us out with incessant talk about ‘amnesty’ for illegal aliens.
“While they play games, our country continues to be invaded and Border Patrol agents continue to pay the price,” he said.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and chairman-elect of the House Judiciary Committee, said 28,000 people, including 1,000 law enforcement officers, have been killed over the past five years in the war on drugs along the southwest border. He called the Terry death a “sad reminder of the real-life dangers that Americans and our law enforcement agents face along the southwest border.”
“The Obama administration’s lax enforcement of immigration laws, coupled with calls for mass amnesty, only encourage more illegal immigration,” he said. “Our border remains porous and the Obama administration has done nothing to stop the steady flow of human and drug smuggling from Mexico.”
Mr. Smith noted that earlier this year, Arizona rancher Robert Krentz was killed on his own property and that the suspect in the case is thought to have been an illegal immigrant.
“What will it take to make the Obama administration realize that we must do more to secure our border and keep Americans safe? Last night, Border Patrol Agent Terry lost his life for simply doing his job,” he said. “How many more Americans will die before the Obama administration wakes up and starts taking illegal immigration seriously?”
Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, California Republican and chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, said the shooting was a “somber reminder of the dangers the men and women who safeguard our borders encounter day and night as they shield us from violence.”
“Each day, Congress and the Obama administration fails to address the brutal reality of our southern border is another day the American people are bereaved by senseless acts of violence and innocent lives are taken on our soil,” he said. “Washington must act now to secure our border by giving U.S. Customs and Border Protection the resources they need to defend us and end the incentives that breed violence and attract those willing to break our laws.”
For more than two years, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have been warning that the dramatic rise in violence along the southwestern border could spread and eventually target U.S. citizens. The violence posed what the officials called a “serious threat” to law enforcement officers, first responders and residents along the 1,951-mile border.
The numbers bear out those concerns, according to the State Department: 79 U.S. citizens were killed last year in Mexico, up from 35 in 2007. In Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, 23 Americans were killed in 2009, compared with two in 2007.
Last year, the Justice Department identified more than 200 U.S. cities in which Mexican drug cartels “maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors” [-] up from 100 three years earlier.
The department’s National Drug Intelligence Center, in its 2010 drug threat assessment report, described the cartels as “the single greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States.” It said Mexican gangs had established operations in every area of the United States and were expanding into more rural and suburban areas.
• Jerry Seper can be reached at email@example.com.
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