Mexican Soldiers Crossed Clear Line

Jerry Seper, Washington Times, October 14, 2008

The nation’s border czar has concluded that Mexican soldiers who held a U.S. Border Patrol agent at gunpoint in August did so after bypassing a barbed-wire fence and other clearly visible barriers to cross into the United States, contradicting claims by the State Department and the Mexican government that the soldiers were simply lost.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner W. Ralph Basham, in a private letter to the National Border Patrol Council Local 2544 in Tucson, Ariz., described the Aug. 3 border incident as a “potential lethal encounter involving four Mexican armed military soldiers north of the international boundary.”

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“There is a barbed-wire fence and new tactical infrastructure within sight that marks the borderline where the incident took place,” Mr. Basham said. “Our uniformed agent, in a marked Border Patrol vehicle, identified himself in both English and Spanish.”

Mr. Basham, who oversees the Border Patrol, said that while most incursions into the United States by Mexican military or law enforcement authorities take place in remote areas where the international border is poorly marked, “that was not the case in this particular incident.”

He also described the tactics used against the agent, including the pointing of automatic rifles at him, as “unacceptable,” adding that the incident had been “thoroughly documented by the Department of Homeland Security.” He said the matter has since been sent to the State Department “with a request for diplomatic action.”

At the time of the incident, the State Department described the incursion as a misunderstanding, saying the Mexican soldiers did not know where they were and needed to make certain that the detained agent was who he said he was. It was the same general statement the department had made in dozens of other suspected incursions by members of the Mexican military.

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The unidentified Border Patrol agent was detained at gunpoint for several minutes by members of the Mexican military who crossed the border into Arizona about 85 miles southwest of Tucson. The soldiers returned to Mexico without incident when backup agents responded to assist.

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Local 2544 President Edward “Bud” Tuffly II said the four Mexican military soldiers crossed into the United States after passing a barbed-wire fence and vehicle barriers that Homeland Security had erected in the area. He also said the agent was in full uniform and was driving a fully marked Border Patrol vehicle, complete with red and blue lights, large green stripes down the side and the large words “Border Patrol” on the sides and the rear of the vehicle.

“A reasonable person would conclude that the soldiers knew exactly at whom they were pointing their rifles,” Mr. Tuffly said. “Had the agent panicked and fired a shot or attempted to flee in his vehicle, there is little doubt the Mexican soldiers would have opened fire.”

Mr. Tuffly, a veteran Border Patrol agent, called the State Department’s description of the incident “unfortunate,” noting that during past incursions, the Mexican government denied it had soldiers in the area or blamed impostors, even when military Humvees were involved.

“Time after time they have gotten away with these incursions and time after time our government has not taken a forceful stand against them,” he said.

Mr. Basham’s letter was sent Sept. 25 to Mr. Tuffly in response to an Aug. 23 letter by the Local 2544 president to President Bush asking that he put an end to Mexican military incursions that have put Border Patrol agents at risk of being injured or killed.

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[Editor’s Note: The earlier account of the Mexican soldiers’ incursion can be read here.]

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