Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2011
Wild foot chases and dust-swirling car pursuits may be the adrenaline-pumping stuff of recruitment efforts, but agents on the U.S.-Mexico border these days have to deal with a more mundane occupational reality: the boredom of guarding a frontier where illegal crossings have dipped to record low levels.
Porous corridors along the 2,000-mile border do remain, mostly in the Tucson area, requiring constant vigilance. But beefed-up enforcement and the job-killing effects of the great recession have combined to reduce the flood of immigrants in many former hot spots to a trickle.
Apprehensions along the Southwest border overall dropped more than two-thirds from 2000 to 2010, from 1.6 million to 448,000, and almost every region has lonely posts where agents sit for hours staring at the barrier, watching the “fence rust” as some put it.
To stay alert, agents are encouraged to walk around or take coffee breaks. Some agents play video games on their mobile phones or read books. There are agents known as “felony sleepers” who intend to slumber–bringing pillows or parking in remote areas–but most dozers are victims of monotony who nod off despite their best efforts to stay awake.
Perhaps no area has more action-starved agents than the Yuma sector, a vast expanse of desert and agricultural fields straddling California and Arizona that shares a 126-mile border with Mexico. In 2005, it was the border’s most trampled region, a place where immigrant rushes, called banzai runs, sent hundreds of people into backyards and lettuce fields, and teams of drug smugglers shot across the Colorado River atop sandbag bridges.
Then double and triple fencing went up. Stadium lighting was installed. Every arrested immigrant, instead of being returned to Mexico, was jailed. Outside town, workers laid steel barriers on previously wide-open borders to block drug-smuggling vehicles from driving through.
From 2005 to 2010, apprehensions of immigrants dropped 95%, from 138,460 to 7,116. Vehicle drive-throughs fell from 2,700 to 21 during the same period. Farmers are now able to plant crops in once-trampled fields. And residents don’t find immigrants hiding under their cars anymore.
Senior officials acknowledge that monotony is a concern. Agents are offered extra training and special details at tactical checkpoints and hot spots in other border regions, they say. Agents are also pulled off the line to do more interior enforcement, including pursuing illegal immigrants at bus stations as far away as Las Vegas.