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.”

Mellower Sadler still has bite in U.S. Senate bid

Austin-American Statesman
Sept. 30, 2012
by Chuck Lindell

It’s been 10 years since Paul Sadler was an intense, industrious and sometimes intimidating presence in the Texas House, and some of his rough edges have worn smooth in the time outside politics.

But a calmer, more contemplative 57-year-old Sadler still has a bite, and the Democrat isn’t shy about lobbing verbal grenades at his better funded, better known opponent in the race for U.S. Senate, Republican Ted Cruz, a candidate he dismisses as a neophyte with a radical agenda.

“I think (Cruz) is an ambitious young man who decided to start at the top instead of work his way up. I think he needs experience, not only life experience but governmental experience,” Sadler said. “He had the tea party angry mob in the Republican primary, but that’s not Texas; that’s not who we are. I hope not. God, I hope not.”

Hampered by anemic fundraising, Sadler’s best opportunity to pummel Cruz — and reintroduce himself to Texas voters — will be Tuesday night’s televised debate, the first of two between the major-party candidates vying to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican who is retiring after 19 years in the upper house.

Sadler said he will strive to portray Cruz, 41, a former top appellate lawyer in the attorney general’s office, as too extreme to appeal to moderate Republicans and independent voters.

“If the public will tune in, they will see for the first time a debate on the issues, because in all the (primary-season debates) with the Republicans, they all stood up and did a ‘me too.’ Whether it was immigration, women’s health, education — they all just said the same thing,” he said.

Sadler has zeroed in on Cruz’s support for a fence along the Mexican border, his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and his call to abolish several federal agencies, including the Education Department, which Sadler said would endanger student loans.

“The border fence is the silliest thing. People on the border will tell you that it’s not a good idea,” Sadler said, adding that any discussion should begin by acknowledging that immigration plays a role in making the border region one of the “great economic engines” of Texas.

“Border cities are some of the safest in our state. I do recognize and understand there is drug cartel activity across the border, that there are issues of undocumented workers coming back and forth, but that is not the central issue of that region,” Sadler said. “Let’s stop this stupid rhetoric. Texans hear the horror stories, and they don’t hear the truth. It’s hurting our state, and if our political leaders don’t recognize it, then the public won’t recognize it.”

Cruz declined to respond to Sadler’s criticisms. But he has said in the past that illegal immigration is a law enforcement and security crisis that requires a comprehensive response, including securing the border and tripling the Border Patrol. He has also said closing the Education Department would return more money to Texas without threatening student loans.

Sadler, who lives in Henderson in East Texas with his wife, Sherri, graduated from Baylor University Law School in 1979. Though he still has several asbestos lawsuits pending on behalf of workers, his legal practice has focused more on regulatory matters over the past five years while he served as executive director of the Wind Coalition, a nonprofit industry group that pushes for wind power in Texas and seven nearby states.

Sadler left the wind power job to run for office, but his Senate bid got off to a rocky start last spring when he was forced into a runoff by Grady Yarbrough, a retired teacher who didn’t campaign much.
The unexpected difficulty forced Sadler to burn through most of the almost $140,000 he had raised by mid-July, leaving him far behind Cruz, who still had almost $1.5 million on hand after spending $7.6 million to defeat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the GOP runoff.

The funding disparity — worsened because many of Texas’ top Democratic donors have given to more competitive out-of-state races — has left Sadler with campaign credibility issues, particularly in a state with a solid Republican voting majority.

The first question from the media and from voters, Sadler said, is: “Can you win? The first one is disbelief, and I hate that because it’s been the narrative from the beginning, and it’s a self-fulfilling narrative.”

Behind the skepticism, however, Sadler hears a second message. Many voters want to believe in him, he said.

“That conversation generally starts this way: ‘I cannot vote for Cruz because he’s too extreme. But tell me you can win.’ I say I can win if you guys vote for me,” Sadler said.

Sadler served 12 years in the Texas House beginning in 1991. Four years later, he was named chairman of the Public Education Committee, thrusting him into the center of many of the era’s most divisive controversies.

In his first session as chairman, Sadler teamed with Republican Sen. Bill Ratliff to rewrite the education code, deregulating school districts to better emphasize local authority. He later pushed through a plan to raise teacher salaries while cutting property taxes and helped create state-funded teacher health insurance.

Then-House Speaker Pete Laney, a Democrat, came to rely on Sadler to pass “the most important, most demanding, most difficult issue on the Legislature’s agenda,” as Texas Monthly put it while naming Sadler to its list of 10 Best Legislators for a fourth consecutive time in 2001. Sadler usually won or came closer to success than expected, the magazine concluded.

Laney, who called Sadler “a very intense, very focused individual,” said he leaned on him because “he was effective in what he did. He didn’t socialize a lot like some of the members did. Everything he did was business.”

Sadler built a reputation for running over opponents, particularly lobbyists or witnesses testifying against one of his bills, and for brinkmanship — waiting until late in the session to move essential bills as a way of limiting amendments or other changes. But it was a fight outside the Capitol that persuaded Sadler to end his House career.

A 2001 car accident left his 10-year-old son, Sam, with a critical head injury and doubts that the youngest of his five children would live. Sam is now in college, but helping his child through years of physical therapy to learn to walk and talk again made two lasting changes in Sadler.

First, he said, the experience dispelled much of the arrogance he admits to accumulating while he held power and influence. But it also brought an intense focus on what’s important in life.

“When you are stripped bare to the choice of whether your child will live or die, will talk or not, nothing in your life is the same,” he said. “I passed legislation for kids with disabilities, for their inclusion in the classroom, but when it’s your child who cannot lift his chin off his chest, then you realize that maybe you didn’t understand.

“It’s why I’m frustrated with people who are so flippant with our safety-net programs. To hold them in such disdain, as people on the right tend to do, shows a real lack of compassion,” Sadler said. “It’s pretty hard to understand.”

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Barrier for South Texas Wildlife

New York Times
October 4, 2012
by Melissa Gaskill

A line of 18-foot-high steel posts spaced four inches apart flank the entrance of part of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the United States, and one of the most endangered. Bifurcated by the fence is the Nature Conservancy’s Southmost Preserve near Brownsvillle, Tex., whose threatened species include the Southern yellow bat, the Texas tortoise and the ocelot, an endangered cat whose estimated American population is under 50. One of the few remaining stands of native sable palms in the United States grow there as well.

The posts are part of a 70-mile “pedestrian barrier” between Falcon Dam and the Gulf of Mexico that was built to deter illegal immigration and drug trafficking. It lies anywhere from hundreds of yards to several miles north of the border. Before construction started in 2009, experts expressed concern about the effects of the fence on so-called wildlife corridors in the Rio Grande Valley. Now they are taking stock of the impacts.

“All wildlife roam along corridors,” said Laura Huffman, director of the Texas branch of the Nature Conservancy. “These are nature’s highways. Any time you put an obstacle in a highway, it’s going to affect mobility, the ability of animals to move back and forth.”

At the Southmost Preserve, the bottom of the fence is pierced by 8-by-11-inch openings every 500 feet.These aren’t large enough for many animals, biologists say, nor were they positioned on the basis of existing data on wildlife corridors.

“Smaller animals – young coyotes, weasels, jackrabbits – can get through the holes, but larger animals can’t,” Ms. Huffman said. “The wall seems to have caused changes to movement patterns of many wildlife. We’re seeing tracks of deer and javelina where we weren’t before. I suspect they are having to follow along the fence to attempt crossings.”

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service has used cameras and collars to monitor bobcats in the Rio Grande Valley for more than 12 years. So far it has no evidence that bobcats are using the openings.
Ms. Huffman said the wall also seems to have changed some animals’ movement patterns. “We’re seeing tracks of deer and javelina where we weren’t before,” she said. “I suspect they are having to follow along the fence to attempt crossings.”

For the ocelot and the jaguarundi, another small cat, interbreeding between populations on both sides of the Rio Grande river is considered ciritical to maintaining genetic diversity.

Officials at the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which spans 90,000 acres in 115 separate units, have also expressed concern about the barrier’s effect on an already fragmented landscape.

“I don’t think the openings are effective — nobody does,” said Kelly McDowell, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s refuge supervisor for Oklahoma and Texas. She said it was unlikely that ocelots would even find them. “This is a heavy forest-dwelling species that stays in cover, and you’re talking about an area that is cleared out with roads on both sides,” she said. “As a wildlife biologist, I can’t say there is any likelihood that the openings will maintain the connectivity that we think a species like ocelot needs.”

When the barrier went up, Maxwell Pons, the Southmost Preserve’s manager, sprayed fox urine around the openings to help animals find them. But not all species would pick up on the scent, he said.

The barrier also bisects the Anacua Unit of the Texas Parks and Wildlife department’s Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area, isolating 48 acres on its south side. “The fence limits the travel of larger animals,” said the department’s regional director, Len Polasek. “It also prevents animals from getting to the river for water.”

When construction got under way, the department’s biologists identified species likely to be affected by the barrier; among them were 10 plants and animals on federal and state endangered lists, 23 on the state’s threatened list, and dozens of species of concern.

“The border fence and roads associated with it reduce ability of animals to move on the landscape,” said Jon Beckmann, a scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. “That isolates populations, which reduces genetic variation.”

Some sections of barrier in the Lower Rio Grand Valley are solid concrete walls intended to retain floodwaters, increasing the possibility that wildlife could be trapped in high water, environmentalists also point out. Even the post-style barrier can worsen flooding by trapping debris.

Mr. Beckmann said that many animals would be deterred from crossing anyway by the increased lighting and the vehicles of border guards and others traveling along the line of posts.

Mr. Pons and Ms. Huffman also worry what will happen to the Southmost Preserve’s native plant nursery, which has provided 70,000 seedlings of 16 trees and scrub to help restore native landscapes. “A lot of people had worked hard and put together a pretty remarkable mosaic of lands protected by state, federal and local agencies and organizations,” Ms. Huffman said.

Several studies support environmentalists’ arguments about the potentially destructive effect of the barriers. A 2009 study in the journal Conservation Biology suggested that the barrier would disrupt movement and distribution of ferruginous pygmy-owls, bighorn sheep and similar species. Another by scientists from the University of Texas and Yale identified three regions where wildlife was most at risk from pedestrian barriers: coastal California, Arizona’s Madrean Sky Island Archipelago and the Rio Grande Valley. (The barriers, mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006, extend intermittently across 650 miles of the border, from California to Texas.)

Still, Mr. Beckmann of the Wildlife Conservation Society says he remains optimistic that a solution will be found as the impacts are further documented. “If we get the right constituents together, we can address national security concerns and maintain functioning ecosystems at the same time,” he said. “It can be done. It’s just whether we as a nation decide it is something we want to do.”