Unauthorized border crossings by Mexican authorities such as soldiers and police spiked more than threefold in 2008, according to an annual report the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency sought to keep secret.
Now that the report is public, the result of a lawsuit by a public-interest group, the agency is attempting to downplay its significance.
“BorderStat Violence, FY 2008 Year in Review” says that 147 foreign government incursions occurred in 2008, a 359 percent increase from the previous year. Only 216 incursions were tallied in the previous nine years.
“There are a lot of places out there where the border isn’t clearly marked,” said Lloyd Easterling, spokesman for CPB. He said even accidental aircraft crossings from Canada were considered incursions.
Mexican authorities may come a few feet into the United States and be spotted by CBP surveillance systems, Mr. Easterling said. “You may see people moving back and forth across the border. You know, they’re 50 or 100 feet inside, and they go right back out.”
Mr. Easterling said he had no proof of any Mexican military crossings.
“Our agents out there are seeing people dressed up and acting in a military-like fashion,” he said. “Whether they’re in any kind of official uniform or something they bought that may look like fatigues . . . I don’t know,” he said.
Chris Farrell, director of research for Washington-based Judicial Watch, interprets the data differently, claiming it reflects a serious deterioration in border security just over the bridge from El Paso, Texas.
“On the Mexican side of the border, all hell is breaking loose. That’s why [Ciudad] Juarez is under military occupation right now,” Mr. Farrell said.
“To discount this report trivializes a very grave warning,” said Mr. Farrell, whose organization won the report’s release by filing a lawsuit to force CBP to honor a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy.
Mr. Farrell said he doubts the increase in border incursions cited in the report can be attributed entirely to better surveillance technology.
Mexican drug cartels, he said, pay corrupt officials to create diversions along the border to open other areas for smugglers.
“Hypothetically, improved technology might lead to better reporting,” Mr. Farrell said. “There’s probably a percentage of truth in that, but it’s highly speculative.”
The CBP report also showed a jump in violence against U.S. border personnel, a trend that Mr. Easterling said is troubling.
Violence against CBP officers and agents is up 167 percent at ports of entry and 23 percent outside them, the report said.
But in other sectors, such as San Diego, assaults on officers jumped 46 percent. Officers are now being equipped with body armor, helmets, shields and “war wagons” that have cages over the windows.