Friday, November 29, 2013

Bishop Flores: Border wall is a 'psychological scar' for South Texas

Rio Grande Guardian
November 28, 2013
by Steve Taylor

BROWNSVILLE, November 28 - The border wall has caused a psychological scar for the communities of South Texas, says Bishop Daniel Flores of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville.
Flores said he can see the border wall from his office in Brownsville. He said the border wall is just a few blocks south of the basilica in San Juan, and when he gives mass in Escobares, he can walk about 150 feet from the church and he is at the border wall. “As a rule, the bishops in the United States did not think the fence was a good idea. Personally, myself and my family have roots on both sides of the border. Most families here have that. It is kind of a psychological scar across the heart of a very culturally rich place,” Flores said. Asked by a reporter to elaborate on why the border wall is a psychological scar, Flores said: “For 150, 200, years, the relationship here in the Valley and further up the river the relationship between Texas and Mexico has been a familial one. Things have changed somewhat radically over the last 25 years or so. But the fence in a certain way becomes a symbol that, that these are two worlds that cannot have any connection,” Flores said. “It has a symbolic value that I think is unpleasant to contemplate because a scar is a scar. It cuts through the middle and it separates. A fence separates whereas the river is respectful; it is a respectful, more fluid thing, respectful of two independent nations. Most people who live on the other side of the border are very happy to live in Mexico. They don’t particularly want to live in the United States; nice place to visit, I wouldn’t want to live there. “For whatever reason, people sometimes feel they have to come but it becomes a sort of sign of an inability to control and that is why it becomes kind of a psychological sort of wound, it does. It is there. Thanks be to God, we still have a lot of movement back and forth, all the bridges along the way. And families still have their relationships and things like that but it did not always exist there and we pray God one day it won’t have to exist there. That is the way I would put it.” Flores spoke about immigration and border security with reporters on Friday while unveiling a letter signed by 13 border bishops from northern Mexico, Texas and New Mexico who are concerned about the plight of families that have been separated due to flawed immigration policies. Click here to read both the English and Spanish versions of the letter from the border bishops. “This letter in particular is directed to the Church, that we should be particularly conscious of how to help families that are suffering, in many cases families that are facing separation because part of the family is documented and part of the family is not,” Flores said. “The Church has always had a responsibility to open itself up to the service of those who are suffering and the families are now suffering right now. So, parishes, social service organizations, things like that, all of our presence in the community should be particularly attentive to the needs of immigrant families.” Flores said the letter is also directed at the “political order,” those who are responsible for passing laws. He said they should not forget about immigration reform and not to let this moment pass. “I just think that this is something we all need to do: to make known that this is a human reality that needs to be addressed in an orderly way by those responsible for governing and that it would be a failure of governance if this were not addressed in a timely and just way.” The border bishops and Texas Catholic Conference have sent letters pushing for immigration reform in the past. Asked what difference the new letter might make, Flores said: “Yes, it is true, we have been saying this for a long time, the bishops of the United States have been saying it, the bishops of this region have been saying it; he bishops of the Americas have been saying it. We pray for it, we work for it but in a certain way we just do not tire of saying it because ultimately those responsible for governing have to take the responsibility to craft a reasonable, more just, system that is respectful of the needs of families. That’s what the Church will continue to talk about. We cannot sit back and complain about how it is that the family is falling apart in our society and yet tolerate a system of law that has as its goal the separation of families.” Asked if the Texas Catholic Conference has met with the Texas congressional delegation on the issue of immigration reform, Flores said: “The Texas Catholic Conference keeps in contact with our delegation. I meet with our own representatives, in the Valley you cross paths very easily and this is an issue I always try to raise with them. In general I think the congressional delegation along the border is attuned to this issue. Whenever you pass a law in the United States it requires a consensus of the whole country and there are parts of the country where there is more resistance to the possibility.” By way of example, Flores cited the Senate bill on immigration reform, which included much tougher border enforcement. “For the bishops this was very difficult because, frankly, to spend that much more money on a border that is already militarized in a certain way, in our view does not help the situation. Speaking as pastors, it is problematic. How much more can you militarize the border?”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cornyn urges CBP to rethink border fence

El Paso Inc.
November 24, 2013
by David Crowder

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has weighed into the fray over plans to fill in the half-mile gap in the border fence at the historic site of the first Spanish crossing, Hart’s Mill and Old Fort Bliss.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, has organized a last-minute campaign to persuade U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, to reconsider the project and to work with El Paso leaders and stakeholders before proceeding.

On Wednesday, Cornyn wrote to Thomas Winkowski, CBP’s acting commissioner, after meeting with O’Rourke.

“I understand that the project is near significant cultural and historical sites, and I would strongly encourage you to work closely with the El Paso community to ensure preservation of sensitive areas,” Cornyn wrote.

Construction of the 17-foot steel wall was to start last Wednesday and even though it didn’t, Border Patrol spokesman Doug Mosier said CBP has notified the contractor to proceed.

Called by some the epicenter of El Paso’s history, the site on West Paisano Drive is now in the midst of several large construction projects.

They include taking down the Yandell Street overpass while putting up massive concrete supports for the toll road that will complete the last leg of Loop 375.

In his letter, Cornyn noted that CBP “conducted Environmental Stewardship Plans to consider the impact of the proposed pedestrian fencing on significant historic sites in the Hart’s Mill area.”

The result of that survey was that “the project would not result in significant impacts to cultural resources in October 2011.”

“While I recognize the efforts of CBP to consider sensitive resources in the region I would urge you to coordinate closely with local stakeholders and consider any further action which may be necessary to balance project goals with historic preservation,” Cornyn’s letter concluded.

O’Rourke’s chief of staff, David Wysong, said Winkowski “is the only one who could, theoretically, halt it.”

Six signers

On Tuesday, Winkowski received a similar letter signed by O’Rourke and five more House members: Democrats Pete Gallego, Filemon Vela and Rubén Hinojosa of Texas, and from California, Democrats Tony Cárdenas and Eric Swalwell.

Their letter, stronger than Cornyn’s, refers to the site as the place where Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate crossed the Rio Grande in 1598, a rocky ford that came to be known as the Paso del Norte.

“The proposed fence construction is antithetical to Congress’ intentions in establishing Oñate’s crossing as part of the National Historic Trail in October 2000 and will hamper future development and improvements to this site that adequately reflect its historical and cultural significance,” their letter states.

They call on the Border Patrol to delay construction.

“Preserving the historic significance of this area should be our first priority and we strongly believe that a compromise can be reached,” the representatives’ letter continues.

It notes that the El Paso sector has a 93-percent level of operational control, which far exceeds other sectors on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“This has contributed to the recognition of El Paso as the safest city in America for the third straight year,” the letter reads. “It seems that there is little need to construct additional fence from a safety perspective when taxpayer dollars could be used more effectively in other areas of the border.”

Border Patrol spokesman Mosier said that while Congress has set aside some environmental and archaeological protections to speed the fence, CBP “has made a commitment to responsible environmental stewardship.”

In an email, Mosier said, “Specific to the Hart’s Mill area, in order to protect cultural resources, CBP conducted intensive cultural resources surveys and consulted with the Texas state historic preservation office, who concurred with CBP’s determination that no significant impacts to cultural resources would occur as a result of fence construction,”

The CBP has arranged to have an independent environmental monitor on-site during fence construction, Mosier added.

Although the site has never been developed as a tourist attraction beyond construction of historic markers, the Texas Historical Commission’s executive director Mark Wolfe, in a Nov. 19 letter, said the National Park Service has recognized it as a “high potential site.”

Wolfe, the state’s historic preservation officer, told El Paso Inc. that his agency agrees with CBP’s archaeological review that determined “no features of concern would be disturbed by the project.”

Property owner Chip Johns said he wonders when the archaeological review was conducted and by whom. He owns the acreage that takes in the Oñate crossing, the Old Fort Bliss officers’ barracks and the mid-1800s home of Simeon Hart, best known as the Hacienda Restaurant, which is now closed.

“If they came on the property, they never asked me,” Johns said, adding he finds it hard to believe there is nothing of historical or archaeological significance in the path of the fence, given that it was a very busy place for hundreds of years.

Wolfe sent his letter to state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, who conceded that neither the city nor the county have done anything to protect or develop the site. But that’s no reason not to protect it, he said.

“The mayor and City Council ought to be involved in preventing the federal government from going forward,” Rodriguez said. “We can’t lose another one of our historic treasures.”

O’Rourke, he said, is doing everything he can “but it’s up to the federal government to step back and reassess the project.”

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser was ill and could not be reached for a comment, but city spokeswoman Juli Lozano released a statement from him saying O’Rourke has kept him up to date on the issue.

“I want to stress that at this time, the city is allowing Congressman O’Rourke to handle the issue and will rely on his diligence to do what is necessary to address the issues,” the statement says.

Johns was surprised last Thursday when two O’Rourke’s staffers, district representative Mario Porras and intern Dana Ramos, showed up at the site to see if construction had begun. “Hot damn, it’s amazing and kind of hard to believe that someone in Washington is actually doing what they say they’re going to do,” Johns said of O’Rourke. “He’s picked up the ball and run with it. How far he’ll get, who knows?”

Border fence to be built at Juan de Oñate crossing, site of Hart’s Mill and the first Fort Bliss

Newspaper Tree
November 22, 2013
Alberto Tomas Halpern

The Department of Homeland Security or DHS, which oversees the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection or CBP, will build approximately 0.6 miles of additional border fencing near the historic Hart’s Mill area of El Paso.

Federal and local officials oppose the fencing, citing historical and environmental concerns.

The fence will be built at a site where Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate crossed the Rio Grande in 1598 as he and his band of settlers made their way north from Mexico City. Oñate’s path became a major trade route for the next 300 years, bringing livestock and trade goods into the U.S. The route also introduced new cultures to a westward expanding America.

In 2000, Oñate’s trail was added to the National Trails System and is called El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail. It is noted for being the oldest route leading north out of Mexico.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 amended a 1996 law, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, charging DHS to construct physical barriers and reinforced fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. The amended law gives authority to the DHS secretary to waive environmental laws in order to build border barriers expediently.

The Secure Fence Act, in part, provided for fencing from five miles west of the Columbus, New Mexico port of entry to ten miles east of El Paso, though gaps in fencing exist in sections along the way.

According to Border Patrol and CBP spokesman Bill Brooks, the latest construction of fencing is a continuation of a previous fence project.

The fence that will be built is what CBP calls a “pedestrian fence,” meant to stop pedestrians and vehicles from crossing. Brooks said the fence will look similar to what already exists near the area, which includes layers of thick wires crossed over one another.

Brooks explained that the notice to proceed with construction was issued on Wednesday, November 20.
The fencing contractor is C3 Construction, an Arizona-based company. Newspaper Tree observed no construction activity at the area the day the notice was issued.

Construction is expected to be completed sometime next spring.

Brooks described CBP as committed to responsible environmental stewardship, despite the environmental law waiver. He added that CBP conducted an intensive cultural resources survey and consulted with the Texas Historical Commission. The historical commission, Brooks said, agreed with CBP’s determination that the fence construction would have no significant impact on cultural resources.

Mark Wolfe, the executive director and state historic preservation officer at the Texas Historical Commission, told Newspaper Tree that CBP contracted with Gulf South Research Corporation, a Louisiana environmental consulting firm, to conduct an archeological review of the area in 2011.

Wolfe said CBP’s study showed that no historical or cultural resources would be disturbed by the fence, nor would it have an adverse affect on the appearance of historic buildings. The study was reviewed by the historical commission’s archaeological, historical and architectural divisions, all of whom agreed that the fence would have no significant impacts.

“That’s the extent of our review,” Wolfe said, noting that his agency did not conduct its own independent study. “We don’t have the budget for that. Our decisions are based on the information provided (by CBP).”

Wolfe explained that the Texas Historical Commission does not have the authority to delay or halt federal projects, even if they disagree with the findings of federal agencies. If they do find that federal projects would negatively impact historic sites, the historical commission can work with agencies to mitigate those affects.

“What we do is we comment on the undertaking proposed by the federal agency,” Wolfe said. He added, “The whole purpose of it is for federal agencies to step back and think about the implications.”

In the case of the fence in the Hart’s Mill area, Wolfe says CBP did consider those implications. “So the process, I think, works.”

In 2009, the El Paso city council unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the construction of border fences. The resolution says in part, “Across the world, walls erected to divide peoples and nations are symbols of failed and repressive efforts to thwart human freedom and prosperity.”

Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX 16) was a city representative in 2009 and joined in supporting the city resolution.

The recent news of the fence construction prompted him to write letters of opposition to CBP and Border Patrol officials, citing the historical and cultural value of the area.

In his letters, O’Rourke stresses the history of El Paso’s Hart’s Mill area, describing Oñate’s crossing near the area, the Hart’s Mill residence and the establishment of the original Fort Bliss in the area.

“[T]he historical significance of this area to our country, the state of Texas, and City of El Paso is immense,” O’Rourke said.

He described Oñate’s crossing in the area as the first Thanksgiving celebration in the United States.

“As a point of comparison, if the Border Patrol were to propose the construction of a fence at Plymouth Rock I am sure Congressional representatives and the surrounding community would object based on its importance as a symbol in American history,” O’Rourke said. “The proposed fence construction at Hart’s Mill should be viewed no differently.”

Joining O’Rourke in opposition to the fencing, in a November 19 letter to CBP commissioner Thomas Winkowski, are congressmen Pete Gallego (D-TX 23), Tony Cardenas (D-CA 29), Filemon Vela (D-TX 34), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX 15), and Eric Swalwell (D-CA 15).

O’Rourke added that more fencing is unnecessary in El Paso, since the sector is at a level of operational control that exceeds that of other parts along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It seems that there is little need to construct additional fence from a safety perspective when taxpayer dollars could be used more effectively in other areas of the border,” O’Rourke told Winkowski.

According to Border Patrol data, apprehensions of undocumented crossers in the El Paso sector are at their lowest level in 20 years. In 1993, the Border Patrol reported 258,781 apprehensions in the El Paso sector. In 2012, that number fell to 9,678 apprehensions (see chart “Total Illegal Alien Apprehensions By Fiscal Year” in slideshow, above).

In late September, during a visit to the border fence near Sunland Park, New Mexico, El Paso Border Patrol Sector spokesman Ramiro Cordero attributed the reduction in apprehensions and El Paso’s safety to the fence.

“Fences make good neighbors,” Cordero said. He added, “You have Ciudad Juarez in 2008, 2009, 2010 as the most dangerous city in the world, the worst in the world. And El Paso was what? And continues to be: the safest city in the nation. What a contrast.”

Cordero stated that critics of border fences are wrong in saying they divide communities.

“You don’t see people, cousins, coming up to the middle of the river to talk to each other,” he said. “This has nothing to do with dividing communities, absolutely nothing. This is to protect people.”

Cordero concedes that border fences, while designed to deter people from scaling them, can be overcome, but with much difficulty.

He asked rhetorically, “Can you climb it? Oh yeah.”

Still, he thinks the fences do slow down would-be border crossers and are an effective tool.

O’Rourke noted that several local officials, including State Senator Jose Rodriguez, County Judge Veronica Escobar, County Commissioner Patrick Abeln, Mayor Oscar Leeser and City Representative Cortney Niland, were also concerned about the construction of the fence.

Rodriguez said in a statement that he was opposed to a border fence when he was the county attorney and he continues to oppose it as a senator.

“This portion of the wall will harm historical resources of national significance. It’s extremely unfortunate that local concerns and even federal rules can be disregarded in order to impose this expensive and unnecessary wall on communities that don’t want it,” he said.

Mayor Leeser issued a statement to Newspaper Tree, saying that the upcoming construction of the fence is being monitored at the federal level by O’Rourke and that the congressman is keeping the city informed on the issue.

“I want to stress that at this time the City is allowing Congressman O’Rourke to handle the issue and will rely on his diligence to do what is necessary to address the issues,” Leeser stated.

Commissioner Abeln’s concerns were similar to O’Rourke’s and he thinks more thought should have been taken in considering whether a fence should be built in the area.

“To fence that off is like fencing off a piece of history,” Abeln said. “It is just a disappointment to me because it’s another place where we have failed to realize the history of our community.”

Abeln pondered how history could have been very different if border fences existed in the 16th Century.
“Had they put that fence in 1598, maybe Juan de Oñate would not have crossed,” he surmised.

Abeln made clear that he supports federal law enforcement officials, but thinks that they have been unduly burdened by failed immigration and drug control policies.

After considering the role of border fences from a larger perspective, Commissioner Abeln drew one conclusion, saying: “The fact is, when you think about it, they’re a failure of public policy at some level. You don’t build fences because something is working. You build them because something is not working.”

O’Rourke: No border fence at historic site

El Paso Inc.
November 17, 2013
by David Crowder

Construction is set to start Wednesday to close the half-mile gap in the border fence at the historic site of Don Juan de Oñate’s Rio Grande crossing, Hart’s Mill and Old Fort Bliss.

The site is generally known as El Paso del Norte, the river crossing point from which El Paso takes its name.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, said he just learned of the start date.

“Given that this is arguably the most historic part of the entire U.S.-Mexican border, I feel very strongly that we must do everything we can to ensure that we understand the consequences of any action we take here and explore alternatives to putting up a wall.”

O’Rourke said he thinks the chances of stopping a project that has been in the works for several years aren’t good.

But, he said, he will do what he can in the coming days.

“I’ve spoken to other members of Congress who represent border communities, and they’re with us in this,” he said. “I’m going to look at other options politically, legislatively and administratively to ensure that El Paso’s needs are included in whatever decisions that are made.”

O’Rourke spoke with Thomas Winkowski, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, on Thursday and said he sought to impress upon him the importance of the site and the urgency of the situation.

“To cut to the quick, he and I are at an impasse,” the freshman congressman told El Paso Inc. “He feels that this is going to be very hard to stop at this point.”

O’Rourke wrote Winkowski a forceful letter Oct. 22 asking for a historic and cultural survey of the site and for “alternative fencing options.”

“I feel like El Paso has a very strong case to make,” O’Rourke said Thursday. “We’re going to renew that case with his team and explore what our options are and what the alternatives are.”

Historic crossing

The Oñate crossing site just off West Paisano is owned by rancher and businessman Chip Johns. It is in the midst of multiple construction projects – demolishing the Yandell Street overpass, improving West Paisano Drive and preparing for an overhead toll road to complete Loop 375.

Johns says he has been fighting the border fence project for more than three years, looking for support from local governments and historical groups to no avail.

He’s also hired a lawyer to help him negotiate a higher sale price for the right of way taken by the project.
“The government ‘eminent domained’ me and took that property behind Fort Bliss and the Hacienda Café along the river and now they want 20 more feet,” he said.

“That will put the fence very, very close to the historic markers back there.”

The standard 17-foot-high border fence would dominate the site, Johns said, but it could be significantly preserved if just 100 yards were left open or if another type of fence were built.

O’Rourke said Winkowski did tell him that the project calls for erection of a “removable barrier” to close the gap that measures about six-tenths of a mile.

“But I think we all know that once a wall goes up, whether it’s removable or permanent, it’s very unlikely that it’s going to be removed,” O’Rourke said.

“It just sets the stage for a more permanent structure and conditions the community to never expect to see something better in that location.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Arizona border fence plan stalled after 3 years

Associated Press / USA Today
November 6, 2013

PHOENIX (AP) — A plan by Republican Arizona lawmakers to build a mile of fencing along the border with Mexico using private money has stalled nearly three years after it was sanctioned by the Legislature.
Private donations expected to fund the project dried up after only a fraction of the funding was in hand, leaving the project far short of its lofty goals.

Lawmakers on a border security committee that met Wednesday acknowledged the state has received just $264,000 for the project, well short of the $2.8 million needed to build the first mile of fencing.

The plan championed by Rep. Steve Smith originally called for collecting as much as $50 million to build a 15-foot fence at busy, yet-to-be-determined border-crossing points then erecting fences along miles of the state's 375-mile border that have no federal fences.

The effort began during the height of Arizona's battle against illegal immigration, before a backlash that left former state Senate President Russell Pearce out of a job after a recall and the GOP-led Legislature with no more appetite for measures targeting immigration.

The Arizona Legislature's border security advisory committee, which includes lawmakers, sheriff's and state department heads, took no action Wednesday on a new spending plan. It also put off until next month a discussion on how to allocate what money it has.

Donations dried up less than six months after the state launched a website in 2011 to collect money for the project. In December of that year, the state had more than $250,000, but the tally remained at just over $264,000 on Wednesday.

Smith, R-Maricopa, said he still hopes to use the cash as seed money for some type of enhanced border security — a fence or some other measure he declined to detail.

"I think all options are on the table," Smith said. "I think people would be really surprised what we can do with a little bit of funds."

The committee co-chair, Rep. David Stevens, said Smith is considering asking the committee to distribute money to sheriffs with jurisdictions along the border.

"He wants to put it to use on the border, because it's not enough to build a fence," Stevens said Tuesday evening. Smith would not confirm that on Wednesday.

The Legislature created the committee in 2011 and tasked it with making recommendations to the governor about how to handle the border. The fence project was one of its key goals

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sister of border agency leader pleads guilty to human smuggling charge

Center for Investigative Reporting
November 1, 2013
by Andrew Becker

The sister of the top-ranking U.S. Customs and Border Protection official in Arizona pleaded guilty Thursday to smuggling an immigrant through a Border Patrol checkpoint near Tucson in the car she was driving, her defense attorney said.

Tammy Leigh Stephens, 52, of Phoenix, admitted in U.S. District Court in Tucson to aiding and abetting an illegal entry. As part of a plea agreement, a second charge of transporting a migrant not authorized to be in the U.S. for financial gain was dropped, her attorney, Eric S.  Manch, said in a telephone interview.

Stephens is the sister of Jeffrey Self, the commander of the agency’s Arizona Joint Field Command, which, under his control, unifies three major border operations in the state and includes one of the busiest smuggling corridors along the Southwest U.S. border.

Agency officials said they have no information that suggests any employees were involved or aware of the alleged criminal activity, including Self.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection “is fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and will refer all questions to them,” Melanie Roe, the agency’s assistant commissioner for public affairs, said in a written statement.

Stephens and a co-defendant, Jason Miles English, who pleaded guilty to the same charge Wednesday, were sentenced to 30 days each, said Cosme Lopez, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona. He declined to answer other questions related to the prosecution.

A 25-year veteran of the U.S. Border Patrol, Self has stepped aside from any involvement with his sister’s case, officials said. In the interim, he will be reassigned to Washington, where he will serve as the acting deputy assistant commissioner for the Office of Training and Development. In that role, he will lead efforts to implement recently announced changes to the agency’s use-of-force policies and practices.

The union that represents Border Patrol agents took issue with Self's reassignment.

“A normal Border Patrol agent who had a close relative arrested for alien smuggling would themselves be investigated by internal affairs and the Border Patrol, not rewarded and reassigned to a high-profile position within the agency,” said Shawn Moran, a vice president of the National Border Patrol Council.

Alan Bersin, then commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, appointed Self as the first commander of the Joint Field Command when it was created in 2011. Martin Vaughan, an official with the agency’s Office of Air and Marine, will serve as the Joint Field Command’s acting commander.

The offices that fall under the Arizona Joint Field Command – the U.S. Border Patrol, Office of Field Operations, and the Office of Air and Marine – include operations at some of the agency’s biggest Border Patrol stations, various border crossings and other ports of entry, and unmanned aerial vehicles and other aircraft.

Arizona is a major transit area for human and drug smuggling and has been a major focus for the agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In fiscal year 2012, Customs and Border Protection apprehended 124,631 unauthorized border crossers in Arizona, the lowest number in 19 years, while capturing more than 1.1 million pounds of drugs between and at border crossings and other ports, according to the agency.

The family relation makes for an uncommon situation, but defense attorneys for Stephens and co-defendant English described the alleged smuggling attempt as nothing unusual for that area.

“There’s not really anything about the case that seems out of the ordinary,” said Manch.

Stephens was driving a white Mitsubishi Galant with two passengers Oct. 20 when she approached a Border Patrol checkpoint on State Route 85 near Why, Ariz, according to the criminal complaint signed by a Border Patrol agent.

When an agent asked the nationality of a passenger, Marlene Josefina Rodriguez-Fernandez, Stephens answered that the woman was a U.S. citizen, the complaint shows.

Rodriguez-Fernandez presented a U.S. passport that did not belong to her and eventually admitted that she was not a citizen or national of the United States and did not have documents that permitted her to be in the country.

She told the Border Patrol that she made arrangements to be smuggled into the United States and agreed to pay money for the use of a U.S. passport, the complaint shows. She was told to go to a gas station after crossing the border and board a car with a female driver, who turned out to be Stephens.

English later entered the car, asked for an identification document from Rodriguez-Fernandez and told her “to say that they were returning from partying in Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico,” the complaint shows.
English admitted to the Border Patrol that he agreed to accompany Stephens to the border to “pick up a friend,” according to the complaint.

There's no indication Stephens has been involved in smuggling before, Manch said. He said there were "a lot of reasons" for her decision to be involved in the smuggling attempt, but it was complicated and he declined to give more specifics. He said she was aware of her brother's involvement in border security but did not know his specific role.

"She's embarrassed enough about this incident” and just wants to get back to her life, he said.