Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Arizona Smuggling Corridors

A Profile of Government in Disarray

By David B. Ham and Stephen L. Wilmeth

Perhaps the greatest threat to the security of the United States today is the 2045 miles of Mexican border. It is there that the drug war in Mexico can be heard at night. It is there that the politics of environmental radicalism has breached the independent thinking of conservation minded leaders. It is there that the very existence of the American experiment may face its toughest challenge.

Prior to 1924, border conflicts were handled by the states or various military operations depending on actions from Washington. The most violent border conflict in the history of the United States occurred in Texas. That conflict was not a single event. Rather, it was a conflict that began before statehood and continued following the Mexican American War when the United States government largely removed its military presence from south Texas.

Texas mounted its own protective service in what it called its Ranger force. Over time, the Texas Rangers evolved from a largely Indian fighting force to a special assignment and border protective service in the days and times up to 1904. During World War I, a United States contingent called “Mounted Inspectors” was put afield due to concerns of national security. Texas also responded to the war effort by beefing up its own security and sent additional Rangers to the border.

The United States Border Patrol was established by Congress in 1924 in response to the demand by Border States to halt illegal immigration. The first offices were established in Detroit and El Paso. Subsequent offices were established on the basis of what is now called “corridor development”. That was also extended to maritime locations where illegal entry expansion was occurring. The early Border Patrol was an organization that hired its officer force largely from candidates that had roots in the border region. They were men with a common background to the American citizens whose security they pledged to protect.

From the inception until the Bracero Program in the ‘50s, the Border Patrol did its work without a great deal of fanfare. If there was conflict it was largely with landowners who employed illegals. Thousands of miles of fence and other infrastructure were built by Mexican labor at that time. That conflict ultimately prompted the idea of the Bracero Program, whereby Mexican workers were allowed conditional entry into the United States in exchange for legal employment. The plan required the Border Patrol to enforce the conditions of the program as well as to oversee the return of the same workers following their temporary visits.

The demand for labor across a wider segment of American business accelerated in the ‘60s. As a result, the country experienced a dramatic expansion in illegal immigration. Interaction with the Border Patrol and a broader profile of American business spectrum took place.

By the ‘70s, the number and the profile of illegal aliens were changing. The border was becoming a more intense and the motives of illegals were changing. Drugs, and the war on drugs, were starting to shape a new and dangerous challenge.

By 1986, the Border Patrol had to start shifting its focus from the border to areas more inland. This change in the mission of the Border Patrol was largely the result of Congressional action. The Immigration Control and Reform Act (IRCA) was passed. It mandated that an amnesty program be implemented, and it authorized the prosecution of American employers who hired illegals. Congress was putting the burden of proof on American business to determine the legal status of aliens. The Congressional mandate to secure the border was being passed to American businesses.

By the early ‘90s, Americans living in urban border centers were in near revolt as the hordes of illegal immigrants swarmed across the largely open borders and quickly disappeared into the mass of humanity on the American side. Something had to be done, and the Border Patrol figured out a plan that worked.

Starting in El Paso, the idea of going back to the actual border, making eye contact with illegals, and pinching off the flows was started. The operation was instituted and the horde of illegal border crossings was stopped. The numbers went down in El Paso, and the Border Patrol was able to reduce the numbers crossing in the Sector as a whole.

The next operation was instituted in the urban centers of southern California. This operation made use of what was learned in El Paso but it also incorporated higher tech ideas. It brought to the border increased agent numbers, border fencing, stadium lighting, and ideas in high tech monitoring. This more sophisticated approach also worked. Numbers of illegals entering San Diego went down and the San Diego Sector numbers were down as well. The idea of putting pressure on the border at the point of corridor entry was working. It only needed to be expanded.

Following the success at El Paso and the urban centers of southern California, the Border Patrol was intent on expanding the idea into southern Arizona. Nogales and the greater Tucson Sector was the target. That operation brought the factors learned at El Paso and San Diego to the Arizona border at Nogales. The operation failed.

What the illegals found in Arizona was exactly what made the efforts in El Paso and southern California work. The immense and harsh conditions of the open desert outside of the Nogales entry became a major entry into the United States. Unlike the urban centers of southern California and El Paso, the Arizona lands outside of the preferred entry points were not fully patrolled and controlled by the Border Patrol. Much of the Arizona border allowed the Border Patrol only conditional and limited access.

The hordes of illegals found the American invention of federally designated Wilderness, and the United States has been at an ever increasing risk ever since. The powerful United States Border Patrol couldn’t access the millions of acres of wilderness, but the human and drug smugglers certainly could, and they did.

A Closer Look at the Corridor Concept

The Border Patrol first started using the corridor concept as a method of controlling illegal immigration in the late ‘80s. The concept was developed by David Aguilar and his staff at the Border Patrol’s Southern Region office in Dallas. The purpose was to control the heavy influx of illegal aliens from Central American entering illegally through the McAllen Sector. There were a lot of factors that led to the heavy influx including natural disasters, protected status for certain aliens from El Salvador, and a policy of releasing the other than Mexicans (OTMs) from detention facilities because of absence of funding to detain them. Regardless of the reason, the McAllen Sector of the Border Patrol was inundated by OTMs from Central America.

To combat this problem, Aguilar created the McAllen Corridor and soon resources and manpower began to flow into the Sector. Agents were pulled from other Border Patrol Sectors to implement the staffing in the Sector on a temporary basis. Anti-smuggling agents and resources, including operational funding, were taken away from different Sectors all over the nation to reinforce the McAllen corridor.

Eventually, the OTM invasion slowed and resources were returned to their respective Border Patrol Sectors, but the corridor concept was established. To determine what might qualify for the creation of a corridor, Border Patrol Stations were required to report a whole new set of metrics that were created to measure what was going on in their respective station areas. Line watch stations, stations whose area of responsibility were adjacent to the Mexican border, were instructed to divide their areas of responsibility into zones and report the activity that occurred in a respective zone. “Zone Reports”, “Got aways”, and “turn backs” were examples of the new metrics.

With the amnesty and employer sanction provisions of IRCA, apprehensions in the late ‘80s dropped. The lull didn’t last long, though, when it became apparent that the Clinton administration wasn’t serious about enforcing employer sanctions. By the early ‘90s, apprehensions across the southern border were again increasing.

In 1991, El Paso, Texas was approaching chaos. Crime had increased dramatically, auto theft was rampant, beggars and windshield cleaners were at almost every intersection in the city. To combat this problem, El Paso Sector Border Patrol Chief Sylvestre Reyes and his staff created Operation “Hold the Line”. The idea was simple. Instead of chasing illegal aliens after they entered the United States, the Agents would prevent them from entering illegally by deploying right on the border. Interestingly, this plan wasn’t approved by the regional hierarchy because El Paso was not an approved corridor.

Although it was a struggle, the plan worked. Gradually the illegal aliens began to realize that things had changed and the days of being able to cross whenever and wherever they wanted in El Paso had changed. Reyes’s idea had been to close the urban border and force the aliens out into the desert where it would be easier to apprehend them. The success of “Hold the Line” soon led the San Diego Sector to adopt a similar strategy with the implementation of Operation “Gatekeeper”. At that time, the San Diego Sector had been the consistent leader nationwide in apprehensions (McAllen and El Paso battled for second). The Tucson Sector was still considered a Sector where nothing much happened. Its harsh, isolated border expanses were not yet seen as a pathway into the United States.

As anticipated, the illegals began to move out of the El Paso/ Juarez metro area and seek easier ways to cross into the United States. Apprehensions in the Deming, New Mexico station area 100 miles to the west began to skyrocket. In the far western reaches of the Sector area at Lordsburg, New Mexico large increases in apprehensions occurred as well. The Deming corridor was created and by the late ‘90s other stations in the El Paso Sector were being asked to detail agents and equipment to Deming to try and stem the flow. Deming tried to emulate the El Paso strategy of forward deployment of its agents, but the aliens would continually outflank them. The farming area west of Columbus, New Mexico was soon overrun by illegal aliens entering on foot and in vehicles headed north. The chaos that had been happening in El Paso was now pushed into the Deming corridor.

The chaos would soon hit the Tucson Sector as well. Douglas and Nogales, Arizona soon experienced the effects of increased illegal entry. By then, David Aguilar was in Tucson as the Sector Chief and he had brought many of his staff officers from the Southern Region to help gain control in that Sector.

In 2003, Chief Aguilar was sent to Washington D.C. to take the place of retiring Chief of the Border Patrol Gustavo De La Vina. The Tucson Corridor had been created and accordingly extra manpower and technology had been poured into the area. Zones and special enforcement areas were created, and different strategies were created almost monthly, but nothing seemed to work as entries continued to soar.

In 2004, a new theory of border control began to evolve and it became the Border Patrol mantra for achieving control of the border. It was believed, and ultimately shown, that with the right mixture of personnel, technology, mobility, and infrastructure control of the border could be achieved. This strategy was developed in conjunction with the pending implementation of the Secure Border Initiative (SBInet). Using this strategy Deming began to gain control of its area of responsibility. With increased numbers of agents, camera surveillance technology, improved infrastructure, and the authority to go anywhere without constraint, the Border Patrol was able to develop a plan that was effective in the farming area west of Columbus. Apprehensions dropped and a more orderly operational control of the area was returned.

By 2009, apprehensions were down all across the nation largely because of the economy. The El Paso Sector, once among the top two most active Sectors in the nation, had experienced a whopping 51% decrease in apprehensions. That was the largest decrease in the nation. Meanwhile, Tucson’s share of illegal apprehensions soared as a percent of the whole. That year, nearly half (241,673) of the 540,865 apprehensions caught nationwide occurred in the Tucson Sector.

While alien apprehensions were down nation wide, narcotic seizures increased by 57%. As with human smuggling numbers, the Tucson Sector led the way with 1,204,702 pounds of narcotics seized. That was a nearly 48% of all marijuana interdiction along all United States borders.

Another measurement suggests the extent of the problem. The Tucson Sector represents about 13% of the entire Mexican border, but, in 2009, the rate of human apprehensions occurred at about 920 per mile of border for the year. The southern border as a whole experienced a rate of 167 per mile of border, but the El Paso Sector had an apprehension rate of just fewer than 6% of the Tucson result, or just 54 per mile. Those results would suggest that El Paso still has pressure, but Tucson is out of control.

The Tucson Sector has received more manpower and technology in the past ten years than any Sector, yet it has not achieved control of its border. The question must be asked, “Why”? The answer is access to the border. Prohibitions against accessing border wilderness areas, wildlife management areas, wilderness study areas, a large Indian reservation on the border and Department of Agriculture forest lands have dramatically hampered the Border Patrol’s ability to patrol and control that segment of the border. At the same time, illegal aliens and drug smugglers aren’t constrained by the prohibitions and are accessing and abusing those areas.

Corridor profile

The most violent and explosive growth of the Arizona human and drug smuggling corridors is a fact of life in the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. It is ground zero where the unexpected circumstances of Operation “Safeguard” and the displacement of illegals from “Hold the Line” and “Gate Keeper” took root and flourished. What is unique about the Tucson Sector that has created such danger even with the presence of increased manpower and technology?

Starting at the New Mexico/Arizona line and running west, that stretch of border is dominated by federal land holdings. The corridor entry points discovered by illegals following Operation “Safeguard” were expanded from the east into designated Wilderness dominated lands of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Coronado National Forest, and other Departments of Interior and Agriculture managed lands. These lands all have some common characteristics. Those similarities are:

1. The corridors have wilderness/de facto wilderness safe havens.
2. They have east /west highway access north and south of the corridors.
3. They have rugged and complex north/south mountain and drainage orientation which provides channels of movement.
4. They are almost entirely or heavily dominated by federal land agency management.
5. The concentration of American private property rights at risk is limited as is the presence of resident American habitation.
6. All corridors have high, strategically located points of observation.

The First Step toward Solution

The lessons from history in Texas and in the urban centers now indicate that success of controlling the border will come only by taking the fight back to the border itself. Success cannot be achieved by dropping back and focusing on peripheral issues. Silvestre Reyes’ simplistic order to his officers in the Operation Hold the Line to “go to the border and make eye contact with illegals” is more valid today than it has ever been. The problem is the Border Patrol cannot do that in Arizona. They are constrained in the wilderness and de facto wilderness areas as discussed, but the federal government has also created a loop hole whereby they can be blocked from entry to other federal lands.

By statutory authority, the Border Patrol has the right to enter into any private property for any reason and without announcement within 25 miles of the Mexican border. That authority was granted years ago in order to defend the sovereignty of our nation. Nothing was deemed more important than the need to protect American citizenry.

The Border Patrol, however, has no similar access authority to federal land holdings. An individual American cannot lock his or her gate and keep the Border Patrol off private property, but the United States can do the same thing and preclude the Border Patrol from entering. At the time the private entry authorization was done, nobody dreamed that a federal agent would ever be restricted from accessing federal lands. The federal land management agencies and the converging Wilderness and Rewilding agenda of the environmental movement have changed that situation. That agenda is trumping national security, they have done much to confound Border Patrol activity, and they have created havoc on the Arizona border.

Implications of that double standard played into the March, 2010, murder of rancher Rob Krentz. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Regional Manager, Benjamin Tuggle, wrote three letters to the Border Patrol in 2009 detailing how, henceforth, they would have only conditional access to the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge directly on the border east from Douglas, Arizona. The stipulations were that the Border Patrol would only be allowed onto the refuge in the event of life or death (human) conditions. Normal, mechanical access for patrolling and illegal interdiction would be denied and if the Border Patrol did not abide by the demand all access would be removed and future access would take place only on the basis of a special use permit.

Money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was used to rebuild fences and barriers around the refuge on the condition of National Security enhancement. The majority of the money was spent on fencing that blocks Border Patrol mechanical access. The actual portion of the work that blocks illegal alien entry was the lesser amount of the total project. The Krentz murderer used the sanctuary of the refuge both for accessing the United States as well as for his escape back into Mexico. Based on the conditions set forth by Tuggle and his staff, the Border Patrol could not have interdicted the murderer with mechanical means even if they had known the exact location of the murderer.

The blind insistence that more and more lands be protected for the purposes of creating an environment largely “untrammeled by man” has made it dangerous for traditional and legal activities in those lands. The void that is being created is being filled by drug and human smugglers. The Border Patrol cannot fully accomplish its mission, few Americans now want to visit those areas, and far too few productive endeavors that maintain a presence of Americans with property rights at risk are allowed and cultured by the federal agencies managing those lands. In the place of a protective and historical American presence, the proliferation of corridor expansion and the escalation of the war to control that growth have exploded.

At a minimum, the Border Patrol must have the same rights and authority to enter federal lands within 25 miles of the border as they do on private land holdings. That organization cannot be encumbered and denied access in order to attempt to carry out its mission while at the same time drug and human smugglers make full use of the lands where that access is conditional or denied. The universal message to Congress should be, “Start defending this country by installing the full rights and authority of the Border Patrol by allowing full and unencumbered access to any and all lands, at any and all times, without any time or conditional constraints to the 25 mile buffer along the entire Mexican border from Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean”. The Border Patrol has demonstrated in the El Paso Sector that, if it has such authority, it can control the border and the human and drug smuggling corridors. Without it, it is a defensive war that America is losing.

David B. Ham served the United States 31 years as a Border Patrol Officer. He was instrumental in establishing the Anti-smuggling team in the El Paso Sector. At the time of his retirement in 2003, he was the El Paso Sector Assistant Chief. He has extensive experience in the areas of southern New Mexico being considered for federal wilderness designation. He is adamantly opposed the any restriction to Border Patrol activities within 25 miles of the Mexican border. He is the current President of the Board of Governors of the National Border Patrol Museum. Mr. Ham is a native of Andrews, Texas and resides in El Paso.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. He believes that long established desert ranches are ecosystems within the greater landscape of the Southwest. Any disruption in best management practices affects the balance of those stewardship units, and the designation of wilderness poses the highest risk of all artificially imposed restrictions. The disruption of established water systems, the curtailment of turf improvement projects, the elimination of brush control, and the elimination of land stewards are threats to wildlife, and, in the case of border ranches, outright threats to the security of the United States.

1 comment:

Tick said...

"Yep Son, we have met the enemy and he is us."

Seems like the more the illegals are allowed to trash the desert/country, the more the politicians are allowed to trash the desert/country.

Once again my wife asked me how many guns a man needs...once again I answered, "one more."