SAN YSIDRO, Calif.—Assaults against U.S. Border Patrol agents nearly doubled along the Mexican border over the last year as patrols cracking down on drug trafficking and migrant smuggling encountered increasing resistance—including the use of rocks, Molotov cocktails and gunfire.
At least 687 assaults against agents were reported during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up from the previous year’s total of 354 and the highest since the agency began tracking assaults across the Southwest border in the late 1990s, according to Border Patrol officials.
In many attacks, smugglers hurled softball-size rocks or fired high-powered slingshot devices loaded with marbles and ball bearings. Some tried to run over agents with vehicles.
In some cases, smugglers and migrants fought with agents and tossed wooden pallets to block their pursuers. Dented and damaged vehicles, windshields shattered, sat in Border Patrol parking lots.
In Tucson and San Diego, the most violent sectors, agents reported being shot at 43 times—up from 18 the previous year. No agents were killed, but three were shot in the leg. At least 20 more were hospitalized, many with head injuries from rocks.
Agents fatally shot five suspected smugglers in the Tucson and San Diego sectors. In one recent case, officials said, an agent struggled with and killed a man who was armed with a semiautomatic weapon and was suspected of waiting to pick up migrants.
In June, two agents following a rural smuggling trail east of Nogales fought a fierce gun battle with several suspected drug runners. Both agents suffered leg wounds but kept returning fire, officials said. The suspects fled back to Mexico.
In another clash, an agent patrolling a rugged area east of San Diego over the summer came under a hail of gunfire as he approached a vehicle being loaded with drugs. More than 23 bullets, believed to have been fired from Mexico, hit the agent’s vehicle. He suffered a minor leg wound.
In other dangerous areas, agents drive customized rock-proof vehicles, dubbed war wagons for their armored exterior. Some of the windows are bulletproof.
The vehicles, in use for years, are needed more than ever, officials said, especially in Nogales and in Calexico, Calif., across the border from Mexicali, where smugglers in recent months have started tossing Molotov cocktails at agents. In one recent case, a person on the border fence threw a Molotov cocktail atop the roof of a vehicle.
“We got lucky . . . It failed to ignite,” said Lloyd Frers, a Border Patrol spokesman.