Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ranchers Split Over Border Security Plan

Associated Press
December 24, 2012
by Elliot Spagat

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — When Dan Bell drives through his 35,000-acre cattle ranch, he speaks of the hurdles that the Border Patrol faces in his rolling green hills of oak and mesquite trees — the hours it takes to drive to some places, the wilderness areas that are generally off-limits to motorized vehicles, the environmental reviews required to extend a dirt road.

John Ladd offers a different take from his 14,000-acre spread: the Border Patrol already has more than enough roads and its beefed-up presence has flooded his land and eroded the soil.

Their differences explain why ranchers are on opposite sides of the fence over a sweeping proposal to waive environmental reviews on federal lands within 100 miles of Mexico and Canada for the sake of border security. The Border Patrol would have a free hand to build roads, camera towers, helicopter pads and living quarters without any of the outside scrutiny that can modify or even derail plans to extend its footprint.

The U.S. House approved the bill authored by Utah Republican Rob Bishop in June. But prospects in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate are extremely slim and chances of President Barack Obama's signature even slimmer. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified in Congress this year that the bill was unnecessary and "bad policy."

Still, an idea that House Republicans kicked around for years has advanced farther in the legislative process than ever before and rekindled discussion over how to balance border security with wildlife protection.

The debate raises some of the same questions that will play out on a larger scale when Congress and the president tackle immigration reform: Is the U.S. border with Mexico secure, considered by some lawmakers to be a litmus test for granting legal residency and citizenship to millions? Has the U.S. reached a point of border security overkill?

Heightened enforcement — along with a fewer available jobs in the U.S. and an aging population in Mexico — has brought Border Patrol arrests to 40-year lows.

The U.S. has erected 650 miles of fences and other barriers on the Mexican border, almost all of it after a 2005 law gave the Homeland Security secretary power to waive environmental reviews. The administration of President George W. Bush exercised its waiver authority on hundreds of miles after years of court challenges and environmental reviews delayed construction on a 14-mile stretch in San Diego.

The Border Patrol, which has doubled to more than 21,000 agents since 2004, has also built 12 "forward operating bases" to increase its presence in remote areas. Instead of driving long distances from their stations every shift, agents stay at the camps for several days.

Lots more needs to be done, according to backers of Bishop's bill to rewrite rules on millions of acres of federal land managed by the Interior and Agriculture departments, including more than 800 miles bordering Mexico and 1,000 miles bordering Canada. The bill would waive reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and 14 other laws in dozens of wilderness areas, national forests and national parks.

"It's a paralyzing process now," Bell, 44, said as his GMC truck barreled down a dirt road on a 10-mile stretch of his ranch that borders Mexico. "They wanted to put this road in for a decade, probably even longer. They broke ground on it last year."

Bell, a burly, third-generation rancher who leases his land from the Agriculture Department, acknowledges there are noticeably fewer border crossers since the government built a fence on the eastern part of his ranch, near Nogales. In the ranch's west end, the Border Patrol opened one of its camps in 2005 — a collection of shipping containers that agents use as a base while alternating 12-hour shifts.

Yet migrants continue crossing in some rugged reaches that are well outside of cellphone range. Bell says waiving environmental reviews within 100 miles of the border may be unnecessary but that a 25-mile zone would help immensely.

"There are areas where the agents can't get to," he said. "By the time they get out of the station and get to these remote areas, then hike another two or three hours just to get close to the border, they have to come back because their day is pretty much eaten up. It's really difficult when there's no access out there."

Ladd, a fourth-generation rancher whose spread near Douglas is in a flatter, more easily traveled area of mesquite-draped hills, thinks the Border Patrol has gone far enough. The agency installed four 80-foot camera towers on his land about six years ago. In 2007, it completed a fence along the 10.5 miles of his ranch that borders Mexico.

Rainfall that runs downhill from Mexico is stopped by debris caught in the mesh fence and an adjoining raised road, Ladd says. The water is diverted to other areas, causing floods and soil erosion on his property.

Ladd, 57, thinks the bill would allow the Border Patrol to "run roughshod" over ranches and farms.

"Be careful what you wish for, they're going to tear it up," Ladd tells other ranchers. "Once they get in, it pretty well turns into a parking lot. It's really hard to get them out."

Ladd says the 37 miles of roads on his ranch are enough for the Border Patrol's needs. "Why do you need new ones?" he asks.

The Interior Department raised concerns in a survey of Arizona's Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge last year that found nearly 8,000 miles of off-road vehicle trails, blaming much of it on smuggling and Border Patrol activity. It urged the Border Patrol to rely on tools like radars and cameras, which are less threatening to wildlife.

Critics of the Border Patrol's growth have long called new fences, roads and other infrastructure a threat to Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican grey wolves, jaguars and other border wildlife.

A Government Accountability Office report in 2010 offered fodder for both sides of the debate. It found Border Patrol supervisors generally felt land laws didn't hinder them on the job but that the agency sometimes encountered roadblocks. An unnamed agency took four months to review a Border Patrol request to move a camera tower in Arizona, by which time traffic had moved to another area.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who has led opposition to the bill that has largely split along party lines, calls the effort a disguised step toward repealing environmental laws.

"The border has become a very convenient excuse to go after laws that have been on the books for four or five decades," he said. "You plant your flag on the 100 miles (of border) and then build from there."

Bishop dismisses that criticism as a scare tactic and a "lousy argument."

"Sovereign countries control their borders. Anything that stops us from that is a violation of why we are a nation," he said.

Immigrant deaths soar in South Texas

San Antonio Express News December 30, 2012 by John MacCormack FALFURRIAS — Back in October, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney jousted about immigration issues in the second televised debate, the president made a remarkable assertion about control of the southern border.

“The flow of undocumented workers across the border is actually lower than it's been in 40 years,” he said.

And indeed, after a decade of increased enforcement that included construction of hundreds of miles of steel border wall and a doubling in size of the U.S. Border Patrol, the results are undeniable. The 327,577 people caught by the Border Patrol on the southern border in fiscal year 2011 were the fewest since 1970. And it was about one-third of the apprehensions made in 2005.

But don't try telling folks in Brooks County that things are under control. Here, apprehensions of immigrants crossing illegally, rescues of people lost in the brush and wild car chases all have increased markedly in the past couple of years. A far more tragic indicator: the death toll of those trying to sneak around the Border Patrol checkpoint south of town on U.S. 281 has risen dramatically.

By late December, the remains of 127 people had been found in the brushy ranchland around the checkpoint, nearly double last year's total and the highest anyone can remember. In 2010, 20 bodies were found.

“When you have 127 people die in your county in one year, it's too much. One body would be too much,” said County Judge Raul Ramirez, who recently ran out of space for “John Doe” burials at the county's Sacred Heart Cemetery and is looking for a new place to bury the unidentified dead.

  At Sacred Heart, their simple graves are marked with bright plastic flowers and small signs that tell what little is known, such as “skeletal remains” or “skull case” or “unknown female,” and the ranch where they were found.

Those that later are identified by DNA tests or other information are exhumed and sent back to their families, most often in Mexico or Central America.

The judge said the annual costs to his poor, rural county of dealing with illegal immigration and the unknown dead, including mortician fees and autopsies, run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. With an annual budget of about $6 million and just six full-time patrol deputies, Brooks County is ill-equipped for the task. And because it's not a border county, it receives very little state and federal aid.

“It all comes through Falfurrias. It's the No. 1 checkpoint in terms of seizures and illegal drugs,” the judge said, adding later, “I ask myself, why us?”

A busy December Already this year, one Brooks County rancher has found the remains of 16 people on his property, which straddles U.S. 281 near the checkpoint, far more than ever before.

“It's just been horrible. And there would have been a lot more deaths if the county didn't have a locator for 911 calls. Everyone has a cellphone,” said Presnall Cage, 67, whose 43,000-acre ranch is regularly traversed by large groups.

“They are coming across as bad as they ever have,” he added. “People say it's slowed down, but it doesn't seem that way to me.”

The deaths have risen markedly despite efforts by both the Border Patrol and local deputies to prevent them. The measures include hundreds of GPS markers spread around the brush that can help pinpoint 911 calls, flashing beacons that have water and panic buttons, and special Border Patrol units trained to save stranded travelers.

Although several hundred agents are stationed in Falfurrias, the vastness of the terrain and the heavy pressure from smugglers sometimes has them overmatched. All told, more than 2,600 agents work in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, trailing only El Paso and Tucson.

“What you're seeing now is the busiest this checkpoint has been since I came to this sector in 1995,” said Enrique Mendiola, a Border Patrol spokesman, who said that this year, the traditional winter lull never happened.

According to a large sign at the checkpoint, 36,075 pounds of drugs have been seized and 3,781 undocumented people have been apprehended here since Oct. 1.

While the Border Patrol does not release statistics for individual checkpoints, the December apprehensions of illegal immigrants here were more than double those of last December, according to unofficial sources.

The latest official statistics for the Rio Grande Valley Sector, which includes Falfurrias, show apprehensions surged by more than 60 percent from 2011 to 2012 for comparable 10-month periods, according to Mendiola. No one has a good explanation for why Brooks County is such a hot spot, and nothing as dramatic is happening around other South Texas checkpoints in Kenedy, Jim Hogg and Webb Counties.

  “If we knew why, we'd go after it,” said Mendiola, who thinks that the construction of the steel border fence in the eastern half of the Rio Grande Valley has pushed most illegal activity westward toward U.S. 281.

“You used to have one organization running drugs, another running people. That was all we knew,” he said. “Now we have transnational criminal organizations and it's a multi-commodity business.”

Chief Sheriff's Deputy Benny Martinez sees other factors. “In my opinion, it has to do with the enforcement in Arizona. They're shifting back to Texas,” he said of the human smugglers. “We're already had 250 to 300 rescues this year, either from cellphone calls or people we find in the brush. It's way more than in the past,” he said.

  In southern Arizona, another recent hot spot for illegal immigration, immigrant deaths peaked in 2010 at 252, forcing the medical examiner to hold bodies awaiting autopsies in refrigerated trucks. This year, the total likely will be below 160.

In Brooks County, encounters between smugglers and the law are becoming more frequent and more dangerous.

  “They're getting aggressive, in the way they are driving and the methods they use to get away. And once they are apprehended, they fight back,” sheriff's Investigator Danny Davila said. “We had one last week,” he continued. “We tried to pull him over, but he went through a ranch, fence line after fence line, until he came to another paved road, and then he was gone.”

“We couldn't stay with him because it was starting to get dark and we had lost sight of him,” he added. “It was not safe.”

Most of the illegal immigrant traffic seems to be headed for Houston, and Davila thinks that large criminal organizations in Mexico working with associates in that city have chosen U.S. 281 as their smuggling corridor.

“This is the path of least resistance. We're knocking down maybe 10 percent of what's going through the county. The volume has gotten phenomenal,” he said.

Deadly consequences

Much of the illegal traffic that goes northward through Brooks County follows backcountry roads into Duval County. There, similar chases occur daily, and often with the same result, an SUV crashing through fence lines into the brush.

“They never pull over. We get three to four bailouts on a good day. And for every bailout, maybe five others get through,” said Jose Martinez, chief deputy in Duval County. “We've already confiscated 325 cars this year from bailouts. We caught people in about fifty of those vehicles, but we hardly ever catch the driver,” he added.

The consequences for the human cargo often are deadly.

In April, nine people died near Palmview in the Valley when Border Patrol agents attempted to stop a minivan soon after it left a stash house. Eighteen illegal immigrants were in the van, driven by a 15-year-old, when it rolled over.

In May, a high-speed early-morning chase in Kleberg County that went through fenced ranchland ended with a man having his leg severed. The man, who never was identified, died of blood loss at the scene.

In October, two Guatemalans were killed after a DPS sharpshooter in a helicopter fired on a fleeing pickup that was carrying illegal immigrants near La Joya. The much criticized shooting still is being reviewed.

Unaccompanied children

During an eight-hour stretch one day earlier this month, in which reporters accompanied Border Patrol agents and Brooks County sheriff's deputies on calls around the county, the action was heavy. The day included a 300-pound marijuana bust and two arrests following a short car chase.

There were a total of three high-speed car chases. One involved a pickup carrying eight people that careened through a hotel parking lot before being abandoned. Finally, there was the discovery of a large group of men, women and children wandering aimlessly in the brush miles off U.S. 281. After being loaded into a white van, half the group of hungry, dirty people was taken to Border Patrol headquarters in Falfurrias to be processed. Most were Central Americans, who now make up a large percentage of those caught.

Among them were eight women and three children younger than age 12, including a Honduran girl, 11, who was traveling alone.

Humberto Martinez Vasquez Guzman, 18, from Guatemala, had come with his young wife, Silva Elena, in hopes of reaching relatives in Kentucky. He said they each had paid $6,500 to smugglers for the trip, only to be abandoned in South Texas, far short of their destination.

“We crossed the river at McAllen on Saturday, and on Monday night they brought us up here. They dropped us by the highway and left. We were walking three days in the brush without food,” he said on a recent day, the picture of complete defeat.

  Martinez said an earthquake that destroyed much of the housing in his hometown, Aldea San Marcos, near the Mexican border, had pushed him to attempt the perilous journey that had just ended so badly. “I've got to ask for help to avoid being returned. God knows I'm not lying,” he said.

But, Mendiola said, there was little likelihood of any of them staying in the United States. And despite his many years of dealing with similar unhappy endings, the veteran Border Patrol agent was moved to comment about the unaccompanied young girl.

“It's a sad thing to have an 11-year-old here like this,” he said of a slim child in a black T-shirt. “At her age,” he added, “I wouldn't even let my kid go three blocks, and these people are coming through three countries.”

Monday, December 24, 2012

Artists brighten up U.S.-Mexico border fence

Los Angeles Times December 23, 2012 by Cindy Carcamo BISBEE, Ariz. — They can't tear it down, so they decided to do the next best thing. They painted it. For nearly a year, a contingent of artists from southeastern Arizona has joined forces with Mexican children to paint portions of the 650 miles of border fence separating the United States and Mexico. Some see the border wall as an obstruction, a political symbol of the chasm between two nations. Others view it as the first line in protection for the nation. These artists, who call themselves the Border Bedazzlers, view the barrier that snakes across the Sonoran Desert as a blank canvas. So far, a collection of artists, children, a minister and musician turned 30 panels of rusted metal border wall into murals featuring rainbows, hearts and brilliant landscapes alongside declarations of friendship and peace. They've colored only about a mile of the wall. Still, Bisbee artists Gretchen Baer and Carolyn Toronto say the effort has a profound result — building community between two nations that share a contentious and anxious relationship, fueled by calls to fortify the border from a raging drug war and mass migration. "The wall that was built to keep us apart is bringing us together," Baer said of the four painting sessions they've held at the Mexican side of the fence in Naco, which abuts an Arizona town with the same name. She hopes others who live along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico frontier will notice and take a paint brush to their local border wall, too. "The goal is to just keep it going as long as we can," Baer said, driving to Naco on a recent day. Cans of paint bounced in the trunk of her car as she negotiated the desert highway, whizzing by green-and-white Border Patrol vehicles on the watch. "There are hundreds of miles of border wall, which is like hundreds of miles of empty canvas," she said. The idea came to Baer two years ago. The 49-year-old native of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, a 20-year resident of the eclectic desert town of Old Bisbee, is known for vibrant oil paintings. Baer thought it would be a good idea to bring art to what she called an ugly border wall. She created a couple of dozen shirts inscribed with the name Border Bedazzlers, but the effort didn't get off the ground until this year. This spring, Toronto teamed up with Seth Polley, minister for St. John's Episcopal Church in Bisbee, to paint one panel of the border fence in Naco, Mexico. He provided the paint, she the manpower. The result is an image of two doves lifting up the Mexican and American flags, revealing a sunny desert road that appears to split the fence, toward a grinning sun. "Wow, I have a lot of paint left over," Toronto told Baer after the project. "Let's keep doing it." Monday was Baer's fourth painting trip to Naco. She's famous in Bisbee for her 1989 Toyota that serves as an artistic shrine to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Baer's a fan, she explained, as she pulled up to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Naco, Ariz. A U.S. customs agent eyed the decked-out ride. Splashes of yellow and sky blue drape the sedan. Glued-on seashells and rhinestone-like gems frame a stylized portrait of Clinton's face on the hood. "What are you going to do on the other side?" the agent asked. "We're working on a painting project," she replied. "On your car?" the agent asked. "No," Baer said, chuckling slightly. The agent waved her through. A bit after 3 p.m., six Bisbee artists doused the wall with blue, yellow and red. Slowly, local children joined in. A couple of newbies approached, timidly asking for a brush. The regulars asked for specific colors. An hour later, the weathered and pock-marked steel barrier was transformed into a multicolored backdrop for children at play. For a few hours, the local children forgot they were next to a wall that's intended to keep them out, Baer said. "It's just a big jungle gym for them," she said. At times, Baer and the other adults have to remind the children not to try to crawl through holes under the fence — probably dug by border crossers — or to climb above the wall when they get carried away with play. "We're thumbing our noses at this structure of exclusivity, anxiety and corruption of governments that can't work out this situation for their people," Toronto said. Most of the kids, however, see it as an opportunity to play and paint on a gigantic space. "I just like to paint," said Damian Villa, 15. He crafted a large leaf in the shape of an infinity sign. The Bedazzlers chose to paint only in Mexico, bypassing the bureaucratic hurdles they'd likely encounter to paint on the U.S side of the wall. The Mexican government doesn't seem to mind, and the community likes the murals, said Maria Elena Borquez, who heads the Naco museum and invites neighborhood children to paint. Toronto motioned to three men curiously looking on, telling them in choppy Spanish to come on over and paint. They said they would if they weren't on a brief break from their Mexican customs job at the border. Still, Martin Eduardo Ortiz liked what the painters were doing. "This goes to show … not all Americans think badly of Mexico and Mexicans… that they're not all afraid to come here," he said. "There's also the perception that Americans treat Mexicans badly. To the contrary. Not all Americans are bad, there are good people. Look, they come here and paint." Earlier this year, Toronto traveled to Europe, where she gazed at an 8-foot concrete remnant of the Berlin Wall. "Things do change," she recalled thinking. "People thought this was a wall that would never go away." Toronto believes she'll be around when the U.S.-Mexico fence falls. When it does, she says, she'll sell each panel for $1,000 a pop. And donate the money to charity.,0,72498.story

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cans of pot launched over Mexico-Arizona border fence

USA Today
December 12, 2012
by Domenico Nicosia

Thirty-three marijuana-filled cans were found on the Arizona side of the Mexican border, apparently shot over the fence with an air-pressured cannon.

Weighing about 2-1/2 pounds each, the cans were found late last week scattered in a field here near the Colorado River, U.S. Border Patrol officials said Tuesday. The almost 85 pounds of contents were estimated to be worth $43,000.

Border officials said they believe that pneumatic cannons — similar to the guns that launch T-shirts and other items during sporting events — were used to shoot the cans about 500 feet over the border fence after drug smugglers had crossed the river. A carbon dioxide tank also was found in the area.

The find was "another unique but unsuccessful attempt" to smuggle drugs into the U.S., officials said. Smugglers try to come up with ways to counter authorities as border officials disrupt drug-smuggling patterns.

Mexican authorities also are looking into the incident.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Arizona border agent arrested for alleged on-duty drug smuggling

Chicago Tribune / Reuters
December 4, 2012
by David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A U.S. Border Patrol agent has been arrested after he was spotted accepting bundles of marijuana from a suspected Mexican smuggler at an international border fence in Arizona, authorities said on Tuesday.

Aaron Anaya, 25, was taken into custody early on Monday by federal agents who seized 147 pounds (66.6 kg) of marijuana inside three duffle bags from his border patrol vehicle, authorities said in a criminal complaint in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.
Anaya, a U.S. Border Patrol agent since 2010, was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and firearm possession during a drug trafficking offense, according to the criminal complaint. Anaya had his service weapon with him at the time.

The controlled substance count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and the firearms count is punishable by up to 5 years behind bars.

Anaya's federal public defender could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Stephen Martin, the Border Patrol's sector chief for Yuma, Arizona, said the agency was "sorely disappointed by the alleged conduct of one of our own."

"I appreciate the efforts by our law enforcement partners and our own agents to uncover those that violate their oath of office, and hold them accountable for their actions," Martin said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Anaya was arrested by agents from the FBI-led Southwest Border Corruption Task Force who were conducting surveillance with the help of aircraft in an area between Yuma and Wellton, about 185 miles southwest of Phoenix.

According to a probable cause statement filed with the complaint, agents say they watched as Anaya stopped his patrol vehicle along the border and picked up bales of marijuana tossed over the fence into Arizona from a man on Mexican side.

Anaya was then seen by the agents placing the load into his vehicle before he continued patrolling, the probable cause document said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that 129 agents were arrested on corruption charges from 2003 to 2009.,0,2545413.story

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Effort to Secure Border Crimps Commerce Along It

New York Times
December 1, 2012
by Fernanda Santos

DOUGLAS, Ariz. — When the copper smelters closed, the jobs dried up and the people who used to sustain the small shops along this border city’s commercial strips left to find work elsewhere, the Ortega family looked toward the neighbor to the south, Agua Prieta, Mexico, for a new clientele.

For decades, catering to Mexicans had been a reliable business plan for the Ortegas and many other store owners here, a multigenerational band of believers who have been around too long to give up. But the tight border enforcement prompted by the Sept. 11 attacks — and amplified by the harsh realities and language of drug violence and illegal immigration — gradually made it harder to get across the border legally, then too much of a bother, and finally a discomfiting waste of time.
Like the copper smelter workers, the Mexicans, little by little, also began to disappear.
An unforgiving blow came about two years ago, when the American government stopped issuing visas in Agua Prieta, forcing whoever wanted them to travel 115 miles to Nogales, a costly undertaking for Mexicans relying on lean monthly salaries to survive.
“I understand the need for securing our border,” said Bill Thomas, 64, who runs Thomas Home Furnishings, a store his father founded 59 years ago, 11 blocks from a port of entry now so fortified and congested that the city had to build a road to steer the lines of idling cars waiting to get across away from local streets. “But what we’ve done is, we’ve shut out the honest guy.”
The feeling is the same along much of the Mexican border in Arizona, where an imposing wall of corrugated steel disconnects main streets, shared histories and binational family ties. It has also begun to seep deeper, among business owners and elected officials inside a state known for its iron-fisted approach to illegal immigration.
The Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau has been running a media campaign in the Mexican border state of Sonora and its neighbor to the south, Sinaloa, to dispel any notions that Arizona is unwelcoming.
(After Arizona passed its strict immigration law in 2010, the Mexican government issued a warning to its citizens, telling them to assume that they could be “harassed and questioned” in Arizona “at any time.”)
On Nov. 16, Tucson’s mayor, Jonathan Rothschild, made his first official trip to Nogales, Mexico, to visit a port of entry that is under expansion and for which he has lobbied for an increase in staffing. At a meeting in October, mayors in the economic development committee at the Maricopa Association of Governments, a regional planning group based in Phoenix, embraced a unifying slogan: “We’re all border communities.”
“Mexicans spend about $2 billion a year in Arizona,” said the committee’s chairman, Thomas L. Schoaf, the mayor of Litchfield Park, a suburb of Phoenix. “They go to the Biltmore” Fashion Park, an upscale mall in Phoenix, and “they go to Flagstaff.”
About 21 million Mexicans cross legally into Arizona every year, Mr. Schoaf said; in Santa Cruz County, which runs along the border, their spending accounts for 40 percent of the sales tax revenue. “A significant part of our economic vitality is related to people who cross the border,” Mr. Schoaf said, “so we need to make the crossing more efficient.”
Erik Lee, the associate director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, said old infrastructure and inadequate staffing were largely to blame for the costly and unpredictably long waits at border crossings. While the number of Border Patrol agents has virtually doubled since 2004, to 23,306 from 11,684, the number of customs inspectors, who operate the ports of entry, increased by only 12 percent, to 21,893 from 19,525, according to federal statistics.
On average, it took 66 minutes to cross the border from Nogales, Mexico, to Nogales, Ariz., in 2008, costing the regional economy about $200 million, according to estimates compiled by Mr. Lee and Christopher E. Wilson of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Projections by the Commerce Department say the average time to get through ports of entry into the United States will rise to 99 minutes by 2017, a delay the department estimates could cost a total of $12 billion for the economies on the two sides.
Looking at his electronic ledger, Josué Lopez, who runs Casa Enrique Uniforms here, a store that his father, who was born in Agua Prieta, bought 39 years ago, said, “There’s a lot of money being lost in the name of security.”
His business depends heavily on Mexican customers: schools require uniforms, which Mr. Lopez sells, along with the uniforms used by many of the factory and medical workers on the other side of the border. Things were going well until three years ago, he said, but then a lot of his customers stopped coming as their visas expired.
In 2010, sales were down 23 percent, and though there was a small recovery last year, he said it was only because “we slimmed down the business and started focusing on the top products that we knew would move.”
In March, voters in this city of barely 18,000 residents elected Danny Ortega Jr., a third-generation Ortega running the family’s shoe and clothing stores, as mayor. He was “someone we thought could understand what we’re going through,” Mr. Lopez said.
Mr. Ortega, 50, took office in June, bent on finding a lifesaver for his and Douglas’s future. He hired a consultant from Phoenix to push the federal government for changes: an extra southbound lane at the border crossing, which opened on Nov. 16, and a dedicated lane for prescreened drivers and pedestrians, which has yet to happen.
“Let’s not be so regimented and look at every person coming in from Mexico as someone who’s going to commit a crime,” said Mr. Ortega, who left I.B.M. after 23 years to help his father and siblings run the family business. “Our financial sustainability is dependent on them.”
He hired a bilingual city manager, and he has reached out to the mayor of Agua Prieta, Irma Villalobos Terán, to figure out ways to cooperate, regardless of federal policies beyond their control.
They also joined a meeting in October hosted by the Mexican consul in Douglas, Oscar Antonio de la Torre Amezcua, to discuss ways to promote shopping tourism on both sides of the border.
“We either help ourselves,” Mr. Ortega said, “or we will die.”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

McCain, Hatch, Rubio offer optimism on immigration on return for lame duck

The Hill
November 13, 2012
by Cameron Joseph

Three key Senate Republican players on immigration returned to a lame-duck session of Congress on Tuesday offering optimism that a deal on immigration could be made next year.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he believes it’s “very likely” the Senate will come up with a comprehensive immigration bill that could include enforcement and a way of dealing with illegal immigrants in the country.

A pathway to residency or citizenship for those illegal immigrants was the major stumbling block to immigration reform efforts in the last decade.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said “everything ought to be on the table” in the immigration talks, while McCain said there’s a “sense of urgency” in the GOP to deal with the issue.

Sen. Marco Rubio said he was “hopeful” lawmakers would be able to work on something, but added his position remains that Congress should take action on strengthening border security first.

“As I've said, in my opinion, the first steps in all of this is to win the confidence of the American people by modernizing the legal immigration issue and by improving enforcements of the existing law,” he said. “And then, obviously, we're going to have to deal with 11 million people who are here in undocumented status.

“I think it'll be a lot easier to figure that out if we do those other steps first. But like I said, there are going to be a lot of opinions on this.”

Republican soul searching on immigration has stepped up after President Obama’s victory in last week’s presidential election. Obama soundly defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters.

In the wake of the election, conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity and pundit Charles Krauthhammer have both urged Republicans to work on an immigration plan that would include a pathway to residence for those in the country illegally.

“There's a sense of urgency in the Republican Party for obvious reasons, and I'm sure that everybody's ready to deal. But the specifics? Too early,” McCain said Tuesday when asked about a comprehensive bill that included a pathway to citizenship.

“There are a lot of very important legal considerations that have to be made, but I've always been empathetic towards resolving this problem one way or the other,” said Hatch.

McCain had abandoned his support for a comprehensive bill during a 2010 primary challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.).

But on Tuesday, he sounded more like the McCain who championed a comprehensive immigration reform plan backed by President George W. Bush.

“Oh, I think it's very likely that we get it resolved, but there are going to be some tough negotiations," he said.

Rubio, a Hispanic who is trusted and beloved by the GOP base, could be the most important player to watch in the negotiations.

He seemed more hesitant to embrace the concept of a big package than McCain or Hatch but didn’t close the door on a single, comprehensive bill. In the past, that’s usually meant a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., stricter border enforcement, a temporary worker program for industries such as agriculture and a crackdown on those who hire undocumented immigrants.

“People are interested in it. It's going to take some time,” he said. “It's an important issue for the country economically, it behooves us to have a 21st century immigration policy.”

Rubio said he “didn’t have anything to announce today” on how involved he’ll be with the issue, but said he was “hopeful we’ll be able to work on something.”

The Florida senator had begun to work on a Republican version of the “DREAM Act” last year before President Obama ordered temporary visas be given to some undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

Hatch, an original sponsor of the DREAM Act, voted against it in 2010, largely because of concerns about a 2012 Tea Party primary challenge.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sonoran pronghorn threatened by water issues, coalition says

Arizona Daily Star / Conkite News Service
November 16, 2012
by Andrew Bovin

WASHINGTON - A new report lists the endangered Sonoran pronghorn as one of the species most threatened by water problems across the nation.

The pronghorn was one of 17 species identified Wednesday by the Endangered Species Coalition as threatened by water-quality issues or a lack of water in 10 different watersheds.

For pronghorns, which live in the Sonoran Desert between Southwest Arizona and northern Mexico, problems include a lack of rainfall, water-quality problems from industrial and agricultural runoff and habitat damage from Border Patrol activities, among other factors, the report said.

Leda Huta, the coalition's executive director, said the timing and duration of rainfall in the desert is vital for the pronghorn's survival for several reasons.

"It's not just water, but also what they're eating," Huta said. "Without water, they're not going to have food."

Another problem is off-road activity by Border Patrol agents. That damages vegetation that the herds graze on, said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that make up the coalition.

"It changes the nature of the area," Curry said of border activities, pointing out that the border fence divides pronghorn herds between the U.S. and Mexico.

"The fence is certainly a problem because it separates the population in Mexico and the population in the U.S.," Curry said.

But the Border Patrol challenged that claim, saying it works to protect the environment while doing its job of protecting the border.

"The preservation of our valuable natural and cultural resources is of great importance to Customs and Border Protection, and we are fully engaged in efforts that consider the environment as we work to secure our nation's borders," the agency said in a written statement Wednesday.

The statement said the agency's work in the Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona, where it "has funded mitigation and recovery efforts for the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, is an example of our commitment" to the environment.

The report, "Water Woes: How dams, diversions, dirty water and drought put America's wildlife at risk," is the latest by the coalition, which releases a report every year listing areas that are at greatest danger from a different environmental threat.

Environmental groups nominate species that are reviewed by scientists, who put together a final list. Huta said the coalition chose species that "aren't a lost cause," where human changes could alter the situation.

"They wanted species where we can highlight what can be done," Huta said.

She said people can help by cutting water use and reducing their carbon footprint, which she said contributes to global warming, which can lead to drought.

Pronghorns were listed as an endangered species in 1967. Officials estimate that there are only about 500 in the wild, about 100 of which are on the U.S. side of the border.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Homeland Security officials confirm that Presidio Border Wall is dead

Big Bend Gazette
June 3, 2011
[missed this story when it was initially published]
by John Waters

The proposed border wall/fence for Presidio County along the international boundary with Mexico has been scrapped, according to Department of Homeland Security officials.

Earlier last month during a speech in El Paso, President Obama declared the proposed fencing/wall as mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 “basically finished.”

In response to a query from the Gazette, Bill Brooks, Public Information Officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Marfa Sector said, “We have no fence under construction in Marfa Sector. The Presidio proposed fence will not be constructed.” Brooks added that a lack of funding doomed completion of the project.

In 2008 as mandated by the Secure Fence Act, the Department of Homeland Security announced six miles of concrete wall would be placed atop levees near the international bridge between Ojinaga and Presidio.

When cost estimates of $20 million per mile were received, the project was placed on hold. Precisely when the project was terminated is unclear, although Brooks confirmed no public announcement of the project’s termination was made.

Cynta de Narvaez of Terlingua exclaimed, “Yippee!” when told of the wall’s demise. “We used every method in any civilian’s arsenal—from hall meetings, to honking at placards, to letter writing, to using the media—to try to inform the agencies responsible for our security that the wall was irrational in every way, and they completely ignored us. If there is going to be mutual respect, then we must keep the relationship clean. They should be accountable to us for their misinformed policies; they should acknowledge their bad choices—and then we can all move on.”

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Momentum builds for U.S. immigration reform plan

November 11, 2012
by Will Dunham

Two U.S. senators launched a fresh move to put together a bipartisan immigration reform plan on Sunday, restarting talks on a proposal that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country.
Since President Barack Obama was re-elected last week with overwhelming support from Hispanic voters, many Republicans have expressed a new willingness to work with Democrats to pass immigration reform after years of legislative inaction.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said he and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham have agreed to resume talks on immigration reform that broke off two years ago.

"And I think we have a darned good chance using this blueprint to get something done this year. The Republican Party has learned that being ... anti-immigrant doesn't work for them politically. And they know it," Schumer said.

Obama in 2010 called the proposal backed by Graham and Schumer a "promising framework," but it made no headway.

There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, most of them Hispanics.

Speaking on the CBS program "Face the Nation," Graham said the tone and rhetoric used by members of his party on immigration "built a wall between the Republican Party and the Hispanic community."

He noted that Republican presidential candidates have been steadily losing the support of Hispanic voters since 2004.

"This is an odd formula for a party to adopt: the fastest-growing demographic in the country, and we're losing votes every election cycle. And it has to stop. It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot. Just don't reload the gun. ... I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that's an American solution to an American problem," Graham said.


The Graham and Schumer plan has four components: requiring high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; strengthening border security and enforcement of immigration laws; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a path to legal status for immigrants already in the country.

Schumer said the plan embraces "a path to citizenship that's fair, which says you have to learn English, you have to go to the back of the line, you've got to have a job, and you can't commit crimes."

Graham added, "Sixty-five percent of the people in the exit poll of this election supported a pathway to citizenship."

Many Republican leaders have taken a hard position against illegal immigrants. Obama's unsuccessful Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, during the campaign advocated "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants. Republicans in Arizona and other states have passed tough laws cracking down on illegal immigrants.

Since the election, some influential conservative voices, including television commentator Sean Hannity, have announced support for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants with no criminal record.

"We have nobody to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing Hispanics, and we can get them back with some effort on our part," Graham said.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, said on Friday the U.S. immigration system is broken. He has expressed confidence Republicans could find common ground with Obama.

The Obama administration announced in June it would relax U.S. deportation rules so that many young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children can stay and work. The change would allow illegal immigrants who, among other criteria, are younger than 30 years old and have not been convicted of a felony to apply for work permits.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Violent crime falls in U.S. cities along Mexico border

Salt Lake Tribune / USA Today
November 4, 2012

Violent crime continued to fall in the largest U.S. cities along the Southwest border last year even as neighboring Mexican crime groups clashed for control of the illegal drug and human smuggling trades.
Ten of the 13 largest cities in Texas, Arizona and California closest to the Mexico border recorded reductions in overall violent crime, according to the latest FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Eleven of the 13 also saw reductions in property crime, including burglary and car theft.
While the largest of the border cities -- San Diego and El Paso -- also reported declines, murders in each city jumped in 2011. Yet city officials cautioned that the rise in homicides could not be attributed to a spillover in violence from Mexico.
El Paso recorded 16 murders in 2011, up from just five in 2010, the fewest since 1964. This year, the number is up to 23 killings. But police Sgt. Chris Mears says the larger numbers are within range of the average for the past 20 years.
"None of these homicides are in any way spillover violence from Mexico," Mears says, adding that a number of the homicides have involved child abuse resulting in death.
San Diego County Sheriff Cmdr. David Myers says the rise in murder there â(euro) " from 29 in 2010 to 38 in 2011 â(euro) " was largely attributed to a "flurry" of domestic-related disputes. None of the deaths were linked to Mexican violence, though Myers says the cartels remain active in the region.
El Paso’s proximity to one of the most violent cities in Mexico and world, Ciudad Juarez, prompted widespread fear last year that Mexican violence -- which claimed 3,400 lives in Juarez alone in 2010 -- was washing into U.S. border cities.
But a 2011 USA TODAY analysis of crime data reported by 1,600 law enforcement agencies in four border states found that violent crime rates on the U.S. side of the southwestern border have been falling for years.
The analysis concluded that U.S. cities near the border are statistically safer, on average, than others in their states. The new FBI numbers follow that same pattern.
Police Chief David Bejarano of Chula Vista, Calif., says the entire Southern California region is seeing a similar trend.
Overall crime is down in his city of 250,000, which sits 7 miles north of Tijuana. But murders increased from two in 2010 to six last year.
Still, Bejarano, a former police chief in San Diego, says none of the 2011 murders in the region was tied to drug cartels. Instead, he says, the area has simply seen a rise in domestic violence and "traditional gang feuds over turf."
While the Tijuana area was once one of the bloodiest regions in the cartel battles across the border, he says those battles have weakened in recent years.
Tucson was among the few cities where overall violent crime was up. Police Sgt. Maria Hawke says the increase was so slight -- the total number of violent crimes increased from 3,331 in 2010 to 3,440 last year -- that it was "not noticeable."
The 51 murders recorded last year was equal to 2010, although sexual assaults jumped from 158 to 204. Hawke says stricter requirements for reporting of such crimes may have contributed to the increase.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Suspected drug smugglers try to leap border fence with Jeep, ramp

Los Angeles Times
October 31, 2012
by John M. Glionna

The rules of the smuggling game across the U.S.-Mexico border have been written unofficially for years: If a bad guy moving drugs or people encounters a border fence, you tunnel under it.
But a group of enterprising – or desperate – smugglers got caught trying an alternative method. They built a flimsy makeshift ramp and tried to drive over a U.S. Border Patrol fence near the Imperial Sand Dunes in Southern California.

A U.S. Border Patrol spokeswoman in Arizona told the Los Angeles Times that a pair of suspected smugglers tried to drive over a 14-foot-high fence in southeastern Arizona just after midnight Tuesday but abandoned the vehicle and fled back into Mexico as agents approached.

“That area is just west of the Arizona-California line,” spokesman Victor Brabble told the Times. “There’s a floating fence there that we move when the dunes move. I guess the only way to get past it is to scale it.”

In 2007, Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar was killed near the same area when he was deliberately struck by a vehicle while attempting to deploy a controlled tire deflation device.

The region, handled by the Border Patrol’s Yuma, Ariz., office, has been rife with underground tunnels allowing drug dealers to move product. This summer, U.S. authorities uncovered a 240-yard-long tunnel, which had been in use near Yuma for nearly three months. Agents characterize the bust as a "major" find, saying the tunnel included sophisticated work such as electricity and ventilation.

Authorities say that 156 tunnels have been uncovered along the U.S. Southwestern border since the early 1990s. Three out of four were discovered after 2001, the majority of which were incomplete.

Clever detective work and improved tunnel detection technology have made underground trafficking more difficult, authorities said. But the huge drug quantities heading across the border could also be explained by a surge in marijuana production in Mexico and, in particular, Baja California, where Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel has been expanding its influence.

In eight years, the U.S. Border Patrol’s biggest find was a nearly half-mile-long tunnel south of San Diego in 2006 – that’s the length of seven football fields.

But like in the recent Jeep incident, sometimes the evidence is right there before your eyes.

Agents from the Yuma station had been patrolling the Imperial Sand Dunes area when they spotted the silver Jeep Cherokee attempting to scale the fence. What the smugglers left behind was a 2,000-pound vehicle perched precariously on the precipice of the boundary.

Authorities say they seized both the vehicle and the ramp, adding that it wasn’t clear if the smugglers were trying to spirit drugs, people or both into the U.S.,0,6959278.story

Smugglers try driving over US border fence, get stuck

Associated Press / MSN
October 31, 2012

YUMA, Ariz. — Suspected smugglers tried to use ramps to drive an SUV over a 14-foot fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, but they abandoned the effort when it got stuck on top.

U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Spencer Tippets says agents spotted the SUV perched atop the fence early Tuesday near the border between Arizona and California.

Two people on the Mexican side were trying to free the Jeep when the agents approached. They ran further into Mexico.

The Jeep was empty, but agents say it was probably filled with contraband like marijuana before it got stuck.

The smugglers had built ramps that looked like long ladders to drive up and over the fence.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Border fence gap to close

El Paso Inc.
October 21, 2012
by David Crowder

The 18-foot-high border fence intended to seal the U.S.-Mexican border from San Diego to Brownsville will soon close a half-mile gap just west of Downtown El Paso.

The new section will run right through the spot where many historians believe Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oñate crossed the Rio Grande in 1598.
Rancher Chip Johns, who owns the property, recognizes the inevitability of the fence. But he doesn't like much about it - not the damage that will be done, not the presence of the heavy-gauge steel barrier and not the price the government is offering.

"They're trying to put that ugly fence right through the property," said Johns. The land on West Paisano Drive near the Yandell Drive overpass includes historic monuments, the former La Hacienda Restaurant and several buildings from the 1890s that were the first Fort Bliss. The fence picks up again near the site of the former Asarco smelter.

Just when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will start construction to fill the gap is uncertain, said Ramiro Cordero, a Border Patrol special operations supervisor.

"There's still a lot of things that need to happen with the property owners and right of entry before they give us the green light to do it," Cordero said.

Documents Johns provided El Paso Inc. indicate he is being offered $22,300 for 19,608 square feet, or about half an acre, along the southern property line parallel to the American Canal.

"I understand that we need a fence and all that, but I'm not going to accept the high-handedness of what they're trying to do to us," he said. "We need something that is more esthetically pleasing than that damn ugly fence, otherwise I'm going to have to get kinda Western with them."

Johns, who runs the 250,000-acre JCJ Ranch along the border in New Mexico, thinks having the fence across the back of the Hacienda property will diminish its possibilities for redevelopment.

The property should be a tourist attraction, he said, given the history of the old Hacienda Restaurant building. Built in the 1850s by pioneer El Pasoan Simeon Hart, it was described by a traveler of the time as a large and luxurious residence built in the Mexican style.

But the restaurant has been closed for years, the Fort Bliss buildings are now low-income apartments and the historical monuments have been vandalized.

"I still feel that between Old Fort Bliss and the Hacienda and the Oñate crossing site, there's a viable attraction that needs to be developed by the city, the city or somebody," he said. "But I'm 68, and I'm tired of it."
Johns said he is haggling with the government over the price of the land it intends to buy with his agreement, or condemn without it.

"I have been told if I do not acquiesce to their demands, they will put a condemnation suit on me," he said. "So that is a done deal."

Changing attitudes

The border fence was greeted with opposition and protests when work began in El Paso County in 2007. The county challenged the fence all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost in 2009.
The controversy has died down since, and some attitudes about the fence have changed.

In El Paso County, the biggest disputes with Homeland Security involved area farmers and the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, better known as the irrigation district.

Jesus "Chuy" Reyes, general manager of the district headquartered in Clint, said one battle focused on Johns' property and plans to leave an important irrigation head gate on the south side of the barrier.

"That head gate is very important to the irrigation district's movement of water," Reyes said. "Any failure of those gates could potentially flood downtown El Paso in a crisis like the one we had in 2006."

That was the year a major storm flooded many areas of the city.

Another problem, Reyes said, would have been the theft of vital irrigation works.

"We're always battling thievery by people coming across the river and stealing parts," Reyes said. "There are some scary aspects about leaving the American Canal on the south side of that fence."

But Reyes' brother, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, was able to procure $16 million that will be spent to put the American Canal works and part of the canal itself underground.

"That would let Homeland Security route their fence so they could leave those structures on the north side," Chuy Reyes said. "We're happy now."

Some area farmers have also changed their opinions about the fence.

"Our farmers down here on the river are happy because they no longer have that illegal traffic coming through their fields," Reyes said. "They no longer have the danger of the drug smugglers because it's really curtailed now.

"It is working. We hear of drug smugglers coming over the fence, and Border Patrol is always dealing with cuts in the fence, but the community that lives along the border is very happy that the fence is there now. I get those comments all the time."

Huge disparities

There's a new controversy over the border fence in the Brownsville area. Recent reports show huge disparities in the prices property owners have been getting from Homeland Security.

"Since 2008, hundreds of land owners on the border have sought fair prices for property that was condemned to make way for the fence," the Associated Press reported last week after conducting an investigation. "But many of them received initial offers that were far below market value.

"And dozens accepted those amounts without seeking any legal help, only to discover neighbors had won far larger settlements after hiring attorneys."

In one case, a south Texas farmer accepted the government's offer of $1,650 for a slice of his back yard and then learned that one neighbor was paid more than $65,000 for a similar lot while another got $1 million, according to the AP.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Border Patrol scrutinized over teen's shooting death

Arizona Republic
October 18, 2012
by Bob Ortega

NOGALES, Ariz. - There was nothing unusual about the call to the Border Patrol and Nogales police on Oct. 10 to report two men climbing the border fence to bring drugs into the United States.

It also was not unusual that once Border Patrol agents arrived at the scene and attempted to arrest the men, who were now fleeing back to Mexico, one or more people began to hurl rocks over the fence at the agents from the Mexico side of the border.

The decision by one or more agents to open fire on the rock throwers, though, is another matter. It is the subject of furious disagreement between the Border Patrol and critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union and human-rights advocates, who say agents resort to deadly force too often. The Mexican government has condemned the shooting and called for a thorough investigation.

At least one Border Patrol agent fired shots through an opening in the fence. Moments later, Mexican police found the body of a 16-year-old boy on the ground in front of a medical office. Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez had been shot eight times. Police investigators marked 11 bullet holes on the walls of the medical office.

Elena Rodriguez is the 18th person to be killed by Border Patrol agents since January 2010, with all but two of those deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border, says Vicki Gaubeca, director of the ACLU's Regional Center for Border Rights, in Las Cruces, N.M. Eight of those killed allegedly had been throwing rocks at Border Patrol officers.

In the most recent incident, there are discrepancies between the Border Patrol's version of events and accounts of witnesses on the Mexican side of the border. The Border Patrol said its agent fired at someone who was throwing rocks at the agents over the fence. Elena Rodriguez's family has said all the bullets entered the boy's body from behind.

The discrepancies may be resolved: A Border Patrol spokesman says video cameras on the border fence were in operation during the incident. Those recordings have been turned over to FBI investigators. Sonora's attorney general also has requested a copy from the Department of Justice, the attorney general's spokeswoman, Sandra Hurtado, said.

The FBI was on the scene hours after the incident and has collected reports from the agents and Nogales police officers. It is standard for the FBI to investigate deadly incidents involving the Border Patrol.

Use of deadly force

Even before Elena Rodriguez's death, the ACLU, several members of Congress and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had this year called for an independent, comprehensive investigation into Customs and Border Protection's policies on use of force.

ACLU attorney Chris Rickerd has criticized agents' actions in several deaths involving border agents, including a March 21, 2011, incident in which a Border Patrol officer in Douglas shot a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, Carlos Lamadrid, three times in the back as Lamadrid fled into Agua Prieta, Mexico. Rickerd said the Border Patrol should explain what disciplinary actions it takes when agents violate use-of-force policies.

The Border Patrol didn't respond by deadline to questions from The Republic about what disciplinary actions, if any, have been taken related to the 18 deaths.

Customs and Border Protection spokesman Michael Friel said the agency's use of force is based on the Department of Justice's policy. "Law-enforcement personnel are trained to use deadly force in circumstances that pose a threat to their lives, the lives of their fellow law-enforcement partners and innocent third parties," he said.

CBP wouldn't provide additional details on its use-of-force policy. But rocks are considered potentially lethal, and the agency typically has not disciplined officers for firing at rock throwers.

The agency doesn't classify rock-throwing incidents separately from other assaults on agents, but Friel said that such incidents are the most common type of assault along the border, numbering in the hundreds over the past three years.

No agents have been killed in rock-throwing incidents. Since early 2010, seven Border Patrol agents have been killed on duty: five in vehicle accidents; one, Brian Terry, was shot by drug smugglers in 2010; and one, Nicholas Ivie, was shot in a friendly-fire incident two weeks ago near Bisbee.

Lt. Carlos Jimenez of the Nogales Police Department said it's common for drug cartels to hire people as border lookouts "and to tell them if something goes bad to throw rocks to distract or deter law-enforcement officers ... They'll pay anybody willing to do it, youths, old people. They don't discriminate by age or gender."

Elena Rodriguez's mother, Araceli Rodriguez, insisted that her son would not have been involved in drug activity and must have been walking in the area when he was shot less than four blocks from his home.

"He wasn't a bad boy," she said tearfully in an interview at her home in Nogales, Sonora. A framed photograph of her son surrounded by flowers stood on a nearby table.

"They killed my little boy, and I want to know why. I want to know why they shot him so many times, why they shot him in the back," she said. "We want justice."

The Border Patrol declined to discuss details of the Elena Rodriguez case, citing the FBI investigation.

Responding to the scene

Nogales, Ariz., police Officer Quinardo Garcia was the first of several officers to respond to a report, at 11:16 p.m. on Oct. 10, of two men climbing over the border fence from Mexico.

Garcia said in a report that he saw two men carrying bundles of marijuana on their backs, jumping down from the fence onto the Arizona side and running toward houses on a street facing the fence. He chased them into a driveway and lost sight of them.

Moments later, he said, the first of several Border Patrol agents arrived, along with a police K-9 officer, John Zuniga.

In his report, Zuniga wrote that he spotted the two men, who had dropped their bundles, trying to climb back over the fence into Mexico. After Zuniga and Border Patrol agents yelled at them to get down from the fence, Zuniga reported that he "heard several rocks start hitting the ground, and I looked up and could see the rocks flying through the air."

As he took his dog back to his vehicle, Zuniga heard gunfire. When he looked up, he saw an agent standing by the fence.

Neither Zuniga nor Garcia reported seeing shots fired.

"I then heard an agent say, 'There is one 10-7,' which means out of service or no longer alive," Zuniga wrote in the report.

The Border Patrol initially told the public that an agent had fired and someone "appeared" to have been hit. The agency has not said whether more than one agent fired shots.

Across the fence, in his home and medical office on Calle Internacional, a street that runs along the border, Dr. Luis Contreras Sanchez was surfing the Internet when he heard someone run past his window, followed by at least eight shots, he said in an interview with The Republic.

"I turned out the light, dove down and called the police," he said. "I didn't hear anyone screaming or yelling outside, or I'd have gone out."

Minutes later, police arrived, Contreras Sanchez said. He looked out and saw the boy face down on the sidewalk.

While Border Patrol officials said that the agent fired after rock-throwers ignored repeated orders to stop, Contreras Sanchez said he didn't hear such orders. The Nogales Police Department's reports don't mention orders for the rock-throwers to stop.

Actions criticized

To some Border Patrol critics, even if Elena Rodriguez was throwing rocks, the agent's response was not justified.

"If you see photos of where he was standing and where he allegedly was throwing rocks, from that distance, how lethal could those rocks be? How defensible is it to shoot someone?" asks the ACLU's Gaubeca.
The fence where the incident occurred was rebuilt a year ago as part of a project to construct more than 650 miles of new barriers mandated by Congress to tighten border security.

The new fence covers a 2.8-mile stretch from one end of Nogales to the other. Built of parallel beams constructed from a triple layer of rebar, concrete and steel, the fence averages 18 to 20 feet in height and has an extra steel barrier on top to make it harder to scale.

When it was completed during the summer of 2011, officials said the fence would better protect border agents from rock-throwers because unlike the old sheet-metal fence, which was 10 to 12 feet high, agents can see through it.

It may have had an impact. Border Patrol officers in the Tucson Sector, which includes Nogales, reported 251 assaults for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2011, a 40 percent drop from the previous fiscal year.

At the main border crossing in Nogales, the fence is at street level. Moving west, toward Contreras Sanchez's office, three blocks away, the fence climbs a steep hill on the U.S. side. Where Elena Rodriguez was shot, the base of the fence is 25 feet above street level; the top of the fence is roughly 45 feet above where the boy was shot.

The angle is such that it would be all but impossible for a rock-thrower to hit someone near the fence on the U.S. side.

Elena Rodriguez's family has hired a U.S. attorney, Luis Parra, to sue the Border Patrol.

Similar cross-border suits in recent years have been dismissed by U.S. courts. For example, 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez-Guereca was shot twice and killed by a Border Patrol officer in El Paso in June 2010, allegedly while throwing rocks as the agent arrested another youth.

The Department of Justice declined to prosecute the agent, saying he hadn't violated CBP's use-of-force policies or training. The department declined an extradition request by the state government of Chihuahua. Federal district courts twice dismissed suits by the family, alleging wrongful death and violation of the boy's rights. In both cases, U.S. District Judge David Briones ruled that U.S. constitutional protections don't apply because Hernandez-Guereca was a Mexican citizen and in Mexico at the time he was killed. An appeal to the 5th Circuit Court is pending.

David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, called the judge's ruling "a legitimate legal interpretation in the absence of any higher court ruling that suggests otherwise . . . It exposes one of the many challenges of the border region that are not well captured in national law."
He said firing a gun on one side of an international border doesn't necessarily create legal responsibility for the impact in the neighboring country.
Gaubeca said that while the Mexican government could ask to extradite the Border Patrol agent, the U.S. government can, as it has before, simply say no.

"How do you wrestle with the issue of causing harm on the other side of an international boundary, and what remedy is there for people who feel this is a wrongful shooting or an inappropriate use of lethal force?" Gaubeca asked.

This, she argues, is why it's particularly important for the Border Patrol to train its agents to defuse confrontations.

Since 2007, when the George W. Bush administration launched a major expansion, the Border Patrol has nearly doubled in size, to more than 21,000 agents. To recruit and quickly hire that many new agents, the Border Patrol reduced requirements, deferred background checks and omitted lie-detector tests that had been standard, and shortened training that officers receive, said John Carlos Frey, a filmmaker who this year produced a documentary on the patrol for the PBS program "Need to Know."

Rickerd, of the ACLU, said in a recent blog post that the Border Patrol should "make clear whether or not it abides by best law enforcement practices," in terms of the training it gives agents, whether it equips them with adequate protective gear that would reduce their need to use deadly force, and what plans it has to install dashboard-mounted and other cameras to record its agents' actions.

On Monday, as she waited to meet with state police for any news on the investigation, Araceli Rodriguez shared one of the many questions to which she'd like an answer: "Why didn't the Border Patrol agents just fire a warning shot in the air?"

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mexican officials question border agent's use of force in boy's death in Nogales

Arizona Republic
October 13, 2012
by Bob Ortega

As more details emerge about the shooting death late Wednesday of a 16-year-old Mexican boy in Nogales, Sonora, by a Border Patrol agent, Mexican authorities increasingly are questioning whether lethal force was needed.

The FBI, and Mexican federal and state police, are carrying out parallel investigations into the incident.

Nogales Mayor Ramon Guzman Munoz told the Associated Press that Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was shot seven times. Various news reports by Sonora broadcasters and newspapers described anywhere from five to 14 bullet holes on the wall of the building beside which the body was found.

Elena Rodriguez's death - following more than a dozen similar incidents along the U.S.-Mexico border since 2010 - has provoked condemnation from Mexican authorities and outrage in Mexican news media, in particular over the number of times the youth allegedly was shot. Twitter messages and comments on Mexican news sites routinely condemned the shooting as an "asesinato," or murder.

This is the fifth incident in Nogales since mid-2010 in which Border Patrol officers resorted to force after youths threw rocks at them. In three of those cases, agents fired their guns, killing a 17-year-old boy in January 2011 and wounding a man in January of this year.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mike Friel said Saturday that the agency's "law-enforcement personnel are trained to use deadly force in circumstances that pose a threat to their lives, the lives of their fellow law-enforcement partners and innocent third parties."

Mexican officials have questioned the use of force before and filed diplomatic protests on several occasions, but Customs and Border Protection has not changed its policies on use of force in recent years, said Friel.

Sonora state police released a statement saying they found Elena Rodriguez's body, "with various gunshot wounds on different parts of the body," shortly after 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, lying next to the curb on Calle Internacional, a street that runs along the border fence. The body was found four blocks from the border crossing in downtown Nogales, at a spot where there is roughly a 10-foot vertical drop from the base of the fence to the street below.

According to the Border Patrol, several agents responded Wednesday night to reports that drug smugglers were carrying bundles into the U.S. As agents saw two men fleeing back into Mexico, people on the other side of the fence began to throw rocks at the agents. Agents ordered them to stop and when they didn't, an agent fired his weapon, hitting one of them, an agency spokesman said.

In interviews aired by several Mexican broadcasters, alleged witnesses said the youths were throwing rocks to prevent the Border Patrol from arresting the two men who were trying to climb back over the border fence after dropping bundles of drugs.

Ricardo Alday Gonzalez, a spokesman for Mexico's Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Friday that Mexican authorities will closely monitor the U.S. investigation into the incident, and cooperate with the FBI and other U.S. agencies, to "provide whatever support is necessary to ensure a transparent, exhaustive and accountable process in the United States."

He said Mexican federal and state law enforcement also "will not hesitate to request whatever assistance they require" from the FBI or other U.S. agencies.

The Border Patrol has declined to say what weapon the agent involved in Wednesday's incident fired. They also did not reply to queries about whether that agent is currently on leave.

The standard service firearm for Border Patrol agents is the .40-caliber Heckler & Koch pistol, which carries a 14-round magazine. Agents also have the option to carry an M-4 carbine identical to the one used by the U.S. Army, which has semiautomatic and automatic settings, Friel said. On the semiautomatic setting, the trigger must be pulled to fire each round; on the automatic setting, the rifle can fire multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger.

Border Patrol agents have access to non-lethal alternatives. In May of last year, for instance, a Nogales-based Border Patrol agent fired several rounds from a pepper-ball launcher at a suspected drug smuggler who was throwing rocks at him, and completed the drug seizure without injuries on either side.

Landowners say they were shortchanged in deals to make way for US-Mexico border fence

Associated Press / Washington Post
October 15, 2012
by Ramit Plushnick-Masti and Christopher Sherman

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — When the federal government began seizing private land along the U.S.-Mexico border to build a towering fence, Teofilo Flores was offered $1,650 for a slice of his backyard.

At first, it seemed like a square deal. But then the cotton grower learned that his neighbor had received 40 times more for a similar piece of land. And another nearby farmer pocketed $1 million in exchange for his cooperation.

Since 2008, hundreds of landowners on the border have sought fair prices for property that was condemned to make way for the fence. But many of them received initial offers that were far below market value. And dozens accepted those amounts without seeking any legal help, only to discover neighbors had won far larger settlements after hiring attorneys.

“You get angry. But that’s the way of life, I guess,” Flores said of the bigger payouts won by other landowners. “You know, people that got more money can afford to do more things.”

The disparities raise questions about the Justice Department’s treatment of hundreds of landowners from Texas to California who couldn’t afford lawyers and must now live with a massive steel barrier running through their farms, ranches and yards.

The wide variation in price “underscores how unfair these original offers were,” said attorney Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, who represented poor and middle-class landowners when the seizures began.

The federal government “is using its power, its clout, to try to take land from people at a price that is unfair. I think that is clear based on the settlements,” she said.

Federal attorneys say the initial offers represented only a starting amount that would permit the seizures to begin and could be adjusted later.

In 2006, Congress ordered construction of 670 miles of heavy metal fence to help curb illegal immigration. The project required landowners on the border to give up property that ranged from the size of a driveway to much larger farms and commercial lots.

The Constitution requires the government to provide compensation whenever it takes property for a public project using a process known as eminent domain.

About 400 landowners have been affected. Most are in Texas, because that state has more private property along the border than do New Mexico, Arizona or California, where much of the border land is already in federal hands.

An Associated Press analysis of nearly 300 Texas land cases found that most of the settlement money went to a small group of owners, all of whom had attorneys. The legal help appeared to pay off: Of nearly $15 million that has been paid out, 85 percent has been awarded to just a third of the property holders.

There are other reasons for the larger settlements beyond the advantage of legal representation. Many of the best-compensated landowners oversee large citrus groves or other commercial operations on land that is inherently more valuable.

They also stand to lose more from the rows of 18-foot rust-colored steel posts that now divide their land. Farmers, for instance, have complained that the fence slows down their work because large agricultural machines now have to drive around the bulky barriers.

Most of the fence construction was completed two years ago, but the government is still negotiating for land surrounding the project.

One recent case involved 8 acres at the entrance to a sable palm grove managed by The Nature Conservancy. The government initially offered $114,000, but in August the matter was settled for nearly $1 million.

Most of the fence construction was completed two years ago, but the government is still negotiating for land surrounding the project.

One recent case involved 8 acres at the entrance to a sable palm grove managed by The Nature Conservancy. The government initially offered $114,000, but in August the matter was settled for nearly $1 million.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Border Patrol Kills Rock-Thrower At Border Fence

ABC News
October 11, 2012

Local police have confirmed that one person is dead after a Border Patrol agent fired his gun at a crowd throwing rocks across the border fence in Nogales, Arizona late last night, and Mexican media reports say the deceased is a 14-year-old male.

According to the Border Patrol, agents in Nogales were responding to a report of two suspected smugglers on a road that parallels the border fence at 11:30 p.m. when they saw the alleged smugglers drop a narcotics load on the U.S. side of the boundary and flee back into Mexico.

The Border Patrol told ABC Tucson affiliate KGUN that while the smugglers were trying to climb back over the fence, a crowd on the Mexican side of the border in Nogales, Sonora began pelting the agents with rocks.

"Subjects at the scene then began assaulting the agents with rocks," said the Border Patrol in a statement. "After verbal commands from agents to cease were ignored, one agent then discharged his service firearm. One of the subjects appeared to have been hit."

The Border Patrol says it then notified the Mexican government of the shooting, and is "fully cooperating with the FBI-led investigation" now underway.

Nogales Police confirmed to KGUN that one person died at the scene.

A reporter for the Mexican radio station XENY took a photo of emergency personnel removing the body from the street, and reported that the victim was male. Other Mexican media have reported that the person who died at the scene was a 14-year-old male. The Border Patrol declined to confirm the age and gender of the deceased when asked by ABC News.

In June 2011, a Border Patrol agent in San Diego, California fatally shot a suspected border crosser who was allegedly perched on top of the border fence, throwing rocks and wood with exposed nails at agents while they attempted to arrest other suspected border crossers, authorities told ABC affiliate KGTV in San Diego.

Monday, October 8, 2012

‘Angels’ search for migrants’ bodies

The Brownsville Herald
October 7, 2012
by Ildefonso Ortiz

FALFURRIAS — Miles and miles of brush filled with hidden dangers, dehydration and high temperatures line the road awaiting many undocumented immigrants who try to circumvent U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints in Falfurrias and Sarita.

The trek has led many of those migrants to graves that line the municipal cemetery in Falfurrias.Small metal plaques that read “unknown male remains” or “unknown female remains” mark the end of the journey for many immigrants and leave their families back home with questions about their fate.

“The bodies here are just the ones that have been found and most of the time they are found only by accident,” said Rafael Hernandez, the director of Angeles Del Desierto, a nonprofit that searches inhospitable areas looking for stranded migrants — and their bodies.

While the group is based in California, the repeated calls that it receives about migrants traveling through the Rio Grande Valley prompted Hernandez to make the drive east in an effort to establish the networks needed to have his group search the areas around the checkpoint.

“I have gotten about 200 reports of missing migrants that were traveling through this area,” he said. “Unlike California or Arizona, most of this land is private property so we have to make contacts with the ranch owners so they will let us search through their property.”

Angeles Del Desierto attempts bringing closure to families, said Hernandez, who arrived with a list of missing migrants he hopes to find or rescue.

In 2012, Border Patrol has rescued about 300 immigrants and recovered more than 150 bodies in the Rio Grande Valley sector to date, said agency spokesman Enrique Mendiola.

“On top of the extreme weather, you have the dangers presented by the wildlife out there: coyotes, wild pings and rattlesnakes are just some of them,” Mendiola said, adding that immigrants also suffer from dehydration. “They are not able to carry enough water with them and if they do find water it is from a contaminated source.”

During his trip to the Valley, Hernandez trekked through one of the ranches searching for migrants and trying to survey the area to determine the dangers that migrants face. The biggest obstacles Hernandez faced were the “no trespassing” signs posted at many ranches.

With a backpack filled with emergency supplies and a cell phone, Hernandez walked for several miles searching for bodies or migrants in need of help. A cell phone is the best survival tool because migrants can dial 911 if they need help and authorities can pinpoint their location for rescue effort, he said.

“Sadly enough we were not able to find any migrants,” Hernandez said.

“We were, however, able to identify the body of a 12-year-old boy we had been looking for.”

Elmer Calinga Ceballos traveled from El Salvador to the U.S to seek a better life and reunite with his family; however, his journey ended on a table at the Elizondo Mortuary in Mission, where officials hadn’t been able to identify him.

Hernandez helped provide preliminary identification, which prompted the Salvadoran consulate to get involved and make arrangements to have the body sent home for burial.

When bodies turn up, the local sheriff’s office becomes involved.

Investigators at the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office have noted a sharp increase in the number of bodies discovered, said Chief Deputy Urbino “Benny” Martinez.

In 2010, deputies found 22 bodies. That figure had nearly tripled by 2011, when they found 64 bodies. But those numbers pale in comparison to the 95 bodies found so far this year.

Deputies find bodies at all stages of decomposition, including corpses that have been reduced to skeletal remains.

“This is a very sad case because these individuals are placed in the trust of unscrupulous individuals who will not hesitate to leave them to their fate,” Martinez said.

An additional danger is the predatory nature of the coyotes — guides — who sometimes sexually assault the women they’ve been paid to smuggle north, Martinez said, adding that his department is investigating five such cases.

“What makes it difficult to investigate is that many times all we have to go on is a nickname or a tattoo,” Martinez said. “The victim doesn’t know who that individual really is.”

Smugglers sometimes force illegal immigrants to carry drugs, leaving them exposed to federal prosecution.

“For the most part, they are hardworking people,” Martinez said. “The best choice would be for governments to have some way to fix this immigration problem so these individuals can travel in a humane fashion.”

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Border Patrol promises consistent access to Friendship Park

San Diego Untion Tribune
October 6, 2012
by Jordan England-Nelson

— The Border Patrol on Saturday made a new commitment to providing consistent access to Friendship Park, a concrete plaza split by the U.S.-Mexico border fence where friends and families on either side have gathered for generations.
Friends of Friendship Park, a coalition that has pushed for greater access and more regular hours of operation at the site, praised the new arrangement.
Access had been intermittent since 2009, when ground was broken for a secondary fence extending from Smuggler’s Gulch to the sea, said the Rev. John Fanestil, a Methodist pastor and a spokesman for the coalition. He said Border Patrol agents were not consistently on call to let visitors inside, leading to an “atmosphere of uncertainty” which meant that “for all intents and purposes, the park was not accessible in any meaningful way.”
Border Patrol spokesman Jerry Conlin said the park was never officially closed, but that “enforcement takes priority” and agents were not always available to let people in. Rotating staff will now be available Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Some groups have objected to Friendship Park because they see it as a way for undocumented immigrants to visit their families without having to return to Mexico. Others object to what the park has come to represent.
Peter Nunez, chairman of the Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization that calls for less immigration, said he has nothing against families coming together at the site. But he criticized the way immigrant advocates have exploited the park.
“The fence symbolizes in their minds the absurdity of immigration law,” Nunez said. “But the park was never meant to symbolize anything about immigration. It’s about friendship between two neighboring countries.”
Friendship Park came about after First Lady Pat Nixon’s 1971 inauguration of Border Field State Park, where she told crowds on either side of the barbed-wire demarcation line: “I hate to see a fence anywhere.”
Fanestil has been visiting Friendship Park for years to administer Sunday Communion. He used to pass wafers through chinks in the fence and into the mouths of congregants on the other side, resulting in a distinct display of transnational transubstantiation.
Steel mesh was added to the primary fence earlier this year to prevent people from passing objects from one side to the other.
Fanestil, who plans on resuming border sacraments today, said he is looking for ways to continue his two-nations-under-God take on the holy rites. He is reaching out to a Mexican minister interested in simultaneously performing the service on the Mexican side of the fence. They even want to use the same loaf of bread, splitting it beforehand and taking one half to each side.
“Newcomers say it [the mesh] reminds them of visiting someone in jail,” Fanestil said. “But you can still strike up a conversation and make friends. That’s why the park is named that way.”