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New Year’s Call for a Border Reboot
Posted on Dec 31, 2010
According to a report by Brady McCombs in the Arizona Daily Star, Terry was part of a SWAT-like team called BORTAC, which was targeting one of these crews. BORTAC is part of Border Patrol’s “hunter and savior” mission, which stops people from crossing the border illegally but also rescues immigrants in trouble and monitors the bandits who regularly rob and assault the men, women, and children who are making the treacherous march to El Norte in search of a better life.
“Mexican drug-smuggling organizations have started using bandit crews to police their routes,” writes McCombs, “ensuring that competitors don’t use their hard-earned corridors, often stealing the loads. They operate all along Arizona’s international border, but the canyon-filled corridor west of Interstate 19 where Terry was killed has been a hot spot for bandits for years. In 2007, there were two fatal shootings involving bandits in the area.” (For a longer list of violent incidents involving bandits, illegal immigrants and federal agents, click on the Arizona Daily Star link above).
There are two types of border area bandits operating today, Lt. Raoul Rodriguez of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department tells McCombs. This includes crews that try to steal drug shipments and crews that assault and rob immigrants. “The crews consist of three to five men, dressed in dark clothes or fatigues, wearing ski masks, and carrying assault rifles or handguns,” he continues. “Groups that target illegal immigrants will usually pop up close to the border, demanding money and valuables and warning the people that they will kill them if they look back. Assaults and sexual assaults are commonplace. Crews that rip off drugs usually do it farther north, often 15 to 30 miles north of the border.”
At the moment, the FBI is investigating the killing of agent Terry, and here’s what is known so far: Apparently, he was shot in the back during a gunbattle. Four men have been arrested; their names have not been released, but they reportedly are not American citizens. A fifth suspect is on the run, perhaps heading toward Phoenix, Mexico, or just plain west.
As columnist Hugh Holub writes in the Tucson Citizen, the lack of additional information is fueling all manner of speculation in chat rooms and local media, from the idea that Terry was shot by friendly fire to the belief that BORTAC wasn’t properly armed.
Hanging over it all is the ever-present question about whether more border violence is coming.
“It’s not a smart move to engage law enforcement the way they do in Mexico,” Lt. Rodriguez tells the Arizona Daily Star. But Sgt. Gilbert Dominguez, a supervisor of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department’s border crimes unit, figures that there will be more shootouts with bandits. And another official predicts a major violent event within a year, involving Mexican drug cartels and U.S. law enforcement on this side of the border.
Meanwhile, for the bajadores on the trail, there is plenty of swag.
It seems to me that the men and women who place themselves between those who are coming here for a new life and those who would rob, rape, or kill them are engaged in a noble calling, dealing with the day to day repercussions of forces that are so tangled and twisted that it may take the Second Coming to sort them out.
What Brian A. Terry did, and what many other unsung deputies across the border are doing, gives the lie to the perception that people in Arizona don’t care about people who weren’t born here. And please note: This is not a hall pass for la migra, whose transgressions have been covered extensively in many other venues. To reiterate, I’m asking for a reconsideration of what’s playing out on our southern border, one that acknowledges the complexities of law enforcement—and life—on a line in the sand.
As Bill Broyles and Mark Haynes write in their new book “Desert Duty: On the Line With the U.S. Border Patrol,” those who serve “are common folks doing an uncommon job. Like police work anywhere, days of humdrum patrol and investigation are interspersed with moments of fear and heroics. Shots have been fired here, but the real count is in persons rescued from heat and fatigue, aliens apprehended, and tons of drugs confiscated. There is a toll of human life. Hundreds of aliens are known to have died in this crossing, but the total is unknown. Plane crashes have killed three Border Patrol pilots and an agent on duty in the region [in this case, the Yuma sector], and four ground agents have died, two in car crashes, one run down by a smuggler fleeing to Mexico, and one drowned as he attempted to save aliens caught in the swirling Colorado River.”
If there’s one thing we know about the border, it’s that people will not stop trying to cross it. Whether and when they merit citizenship is another question. Until that’s resolved, it says a lot about our country that some of us are dying to save those who are entering without papers, illegally, in the dark, over fences, through tunnels, barefoot, bleeding, snake-bit, penniless, hungry, thirsty, for hire, for rent, scheming, dreaming, conniving, no habla—and I’m not ashamed in the least for living here.
(P.S. For an excellent portrayal of the border conflict, including the history behind it, who’s crossing and who’s not, how various locals view it, and what’s being done about the impact on the environment, please see this article in the Sierra Vista Herald.)
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