Dispatch From "Almost America" - Texas Border patrol banned from border

Article author: 
Jessica Vaughan
Article publisher: 
Center for Immigration Studies
Article date: 
22 September 2014
Article category: 
National News
Article Body: 

 I had to chuckle as I read the first line of a front-page story in the El Paso Times, which I had picked up in the airport on my way home from a conference: "The average Border Patrol agent in El Paso apprehended 4.2 undocumented immigrants [sic] in 2013, according to a presentation made to lawmakers last week by two experts who study the border."

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to study this part of the border up close: the activities of the drug cartels, smugglers, and gangs who routinely violate it; and the impact our government's failure to secure the border has on the lives of Americans living in the border region east of El Paso, who ruefully refer to their community as "Almost America", an exposed part of the United States that serves as a doormat for illegal border crossers.

It is not hard to see why apprehensions are so low in the El Paso sector. Years ago the construction of a border fence within the city took care of the problem in the heavily populated areas of the sector. Border Patrol spokesman Joe Romero was quoted in the article explaining the low numbers, saying their strategy was to deter illegal crossers and "prompt" them to return to Mexico before they are apprehended (no apprehensions, no border problem!).

But in Hudspeth County, which lies just east of El Paso County, there is little fencing and little patrolling by the Border Patrol. According to Hudspeth County's Chief Deputy Sheriff Robert Wilson, anyone can cross the border illegally here, anytime, day or night, whenever they want to, for any purpose – and they do, every day and every night, whether to deliver loads of smuggled illegal aliens and drugs or to deliver groceries to relatives on the other side.


Hudspeth County, with a total area of 5,500 square miles (the size of Connecticut), has 98 miles of the border within its limits and less than three miles of fencing. The fencing, constructed of 15-foot-high four-inch square iron poles, looks very formidable where it is – until it ends abruptly. In the area where the fence ends, the Rio Grande is no more than a small stream that anyone could wade or jump across – when it has any water flowing in it at all; most of the time it is dry.

We were told that there are 800 Border Patrol agents assigned to cover the county. However, according to our guides (a resident and several sheriff's deputies), under orders from headquarters in Washington, DC, these agents are not permitted to patrol the area between Interstate Highway 10 and the border. The agents reportedly are restricted to working the vehicle checkpoints on I-10, and only move into the expanse between the Rio Grande River and the highway to respond to an alert from a resident of one of the pecan, cotton, or livestock ranches that abut the river, or perhaps from a sensor tripped by illicit movement. We were told that about 10 such alerts occur every couple of days in this area alone.

The problem with this approach, according to our guides, is that Border Patrol agents cannot possibly respond in time to apprehend illegal crossers. The smugglers leave cars parked in the area for crossers to hop into, and they can reach either the interstate or a smaller state highway in just a minute or two. These highways are plainly visible from the border embankment. Perhaps the Border Patrol uses remote surveillance and then tries to interdict the illegal crossers as they travel along the highway. But if that were the case, and people and drugs are crossing as frequently as the sheriff's office asserts, then the Border Patrol's apprehension numbers should be much higher than 4.2 per agent per year. It is more plausible that they are missing a lot more crossers and contraband than they are catching, and don't have a clue about what they're missing....