SAN DIEGO - Newton’s third law of physics says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and it’s being played out in violent fashion along the nation’s southwest border.
Assaults against U.S. Border Patrol agents along a 260-mile stretch of the Arizona/Mexico border known as the Tucson sector, a desolate expanse of territory that is the nation’s major artery for illegal immigration, are on a record clip. In the first eight months of fiscal year 2005 there have been 163 recorded acts of violence against border agents compared with 118 for all of fiscal year 2004, according to the U.S. Border Patrol....
The increase in violence comes amid a renewed government security crackdown on the border launched just last month. That effort, known officially as the Arizona Border Control Initiative Phase II, “is nothing less than a full court press,” said Richard Bonner, commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection unit, promising the effort would gain control of “what is the weakest part of our border with Mexico.”...
The violence “is indicative of the desire by the type of people coming here” to protect their illicit cargo, said Shawn Moran, a border patrol agent and San Diego local union official. “[President] Bush likes to say just good hearted people are trying to come across our borders,” Moran said, “but a number of them are hardened criminals with a criminal past and they are willing to do anything it takes.”...
“Make no mistake, these [criminals] are organized,” said George McCubbin, a border agent and southwest vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing border agents. “They will try and create a confrontation in one area as a diversion, knowing we’ll send agents to respond, in hopes that they can sneak through uncovered areas,” McCubbin said.
Range of violence
The violence against border agents runs the gamut from physical assaults, where a suspect actually fights with an agent, to “rockings,” in which agents and their vehicles are pelted with rocks or chunks of cement blocks, to vehicles being used to try and run agents down, to shootings.
The “rockings” have gotten so violent that border patrol agents now ride in “war wagons," vehicles that are custom fitted with steel screens, said Joe Brigman, a border patrol spokesman in the Yuma, Ariz. sector.
Violence on the border
(as of 5/23)
Rock throwing 7795
Physical assaults 2120
Vehicle rammings 926
Other assaults 22
Source: U.S. Border Patrol
But union officials and agents said that they are often frustrated by internal policies that keep them from taking aggressive action against illegal immigrants.
McCubbin said that because of personnel shortages, the border patrol has shifted from active patrols to a policy of “high visibility” in which agents are basically static or in “watch mode” until an actual incursion is noted and they have to respond.
“We’re pretty much a reactive operation,” McCubbin said, “and I believe that’s why we’re in this position, we’re like sitting ducks in a way.”...
“If anyone runs from us, we don’t chase them,” said one California-based border patrol agent who requested anonymity. “We could have information that there is a nuke in the back of a van but we don’t have authority to chase them,” the agent said. “We’ve had radiation pagers go off and we’re still not allowed [by our supervisors] to give chase,” he said. “They are scared to death something will go wrong and there will be a huge liability.”...