Sections of Mexican Border Called Virtual War Zone

Dave Montgomery, Star-Telegram (Fort Worth), Mar. 2, 2006

WASHINGTON—State and federal law enforcement officers appeared before senators Wednesday to paint a horrific picture of life on the Southwest border, telling of violent assaults, running gunbattles, brazen cross-border incursions and threatened contract killings of U.S. officers.

The hearing, co-chaired by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., prompted calls for a border crackdown to combat what Kyl described as “bad, nasty, dangerous people.”

U.S. Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar showed slides of battered agents, telling senators that his officers increasingly fall victim to attacks by assailants firing weapons, hurling rocks or pursuing the agents with vehicles. One current weapon of choice, he said, is a “Molotov rock”—a rock wrapped in fabric then set ablaze.

Val Verde County Sheriff A. D’Wayne Jernigan, head of the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, said in written testimony that authorities have received information that Mexican drug rings plan to kill as many U.S. police officers as possible in an attempt to intimidate U.S. authorities.

“The drug trafficking organizations have the money, equipment and stamina to carry out their threats,” Jernigan said. “They are determined to protect their illicit trade.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets today to begin preparing a comprehensive immigration measure to present to the full Senate, possibly by the end of the month. Cornyn and Kyl are co-sponsoring one of the major bills to be considered by the committee.

The joint hearing by Cornyn’s and Kyl’s two subcommittees was prompted by a Jan. 23 incursion into Hudspeth County by uniformed and heavily armed gunmen. The incident fanned allegations that rogue Mexican military units are serving as escorts for drug smugglers, assertions vehemently denied by the Mexican government.

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Aguilar said the Border Patrol has documented 144 incursions by Mexican government officials since 1991, but he said most appeared to be accidental. U.S. authorities have been working with Mexican officials to prevent unauthorized incursions and have reduced the rate by 50 percent over the past five years, he said.

But T.J. Bonner, a San Diego agent who heads the National Border Patrol Council, the agents’ national union, said that front-line agents increasingly confront Mexican military and that he was “incredulous” that the Mexican government denied the allegations. He cited four instances since 2000 in which agents have been fired on.

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Violence on the U.S.-Mexico border is at an all-time high because illegal aliens are more willing to attack U.S. authorities, and an increasing number also are convicted criminals, border sheriffs said yesterday.

Whereas 10 years ago they would flee back to Mexico if anyone challenged them, now aliens make it clear they will fight, the sheriffs told a Senate Judiciary Committee panel.

“They make it known to the deputies: ‘We’re going through, you’re not going to stop us,’” said Sheriff A. D’Wayne Jernigan of Val Verde County in Texas.

And Sheriff Larry A. Dever of Cochise County in Arizona said when smugglers are involved, law enforcement now expects the worst.

“We anticipate that we will be in a fight, a very violent confrontation, in every interdiction effort, with running gunbattles down public roadways,” he said.

The sheriffs described a border in chaos and a federal government that hasn’t put the resources into its own efforts, nor been as receptive as possible to local law-enforcement efforts to help out.

They said the trend toward violent confrontations has happened in the past decade as the trade in drugs and people has become a big business for smugglers and with the increase in OTMs, or “other than Mexican” aliens, attempting to cross.

“It sounds like, if nothing else, there’s at least an attitude of entitlement,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

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