By Nadin Abbott
January 17, 2013 (Alpine) -- The United States Border Patrol came to Alpine to speak with residents about progress made in securing the border and to hear residents’ concerns. More forums are planned.
Paul Beeson, Chief Patrol Agent in the San Diego Region, said the sector comprises 60 miles of border, from the ocean to El Centro in Imperial County. There are six border patrol stations, which roughly are responsible for 10 miles of border each.
In the interior (including East County) "the threat is from ultra light aircraft” which air-drop narcotics and fly back across the border.
There is also the tunneling threat, lately around Tecate. The last tunnel was stopped on the Mexican side of the border and there is good cooperation on both sides. Both sides want a safe and secured border.
At the beaches, there is a threat to border integrity from open-topped boats.
Since 9-11 and the reorganization of Border Patrol into the Department of Homeland Security, the Patrol has gotten resources in both personnel and technology. Fewer people are crossing the border due to the economy, which has led to a reduction in arrests from a high of half a million in the mid 1990s to 24,000 last year.
This has translated into a lot of frustration on the part of the smugglers. The price of smuggling has gone up from $300-$500 back in the 1990s to $5,000-$10,000 per person for smuggling fees.
According to Patrol Agent in Charge Michael Dolittle at the Jacumba Station, the eastern most station is responsible for 10 linear lines of border and 540 square miles. Conditions range from the desert floor, all the way to four thousand feet in altitude. They also face very rugged terrain. (Last year, while covering a fire in Boulevard, the terrain we crossed was just a taste of what these young agents have to patrol. Rugged does not start to describe it.)
Dolittle shared an interesting tidbit on the latest trends with the audience. The coyotes, or smugglers of undocumented immigrants, used to cross with their charges and guide them. Prosecution is aggressive and they do not want to face jail time in the United States, so they are now using binoculars and high points in Tecate, with cell phones to guide their charges across. These days the vans loaded to the hilt are gone. Instead they are using trunks and trying to go through the checkpoints that way.
According to Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Steven Pitts, the cooperation with the Mexican Federal Government though the Operation Against Smugglers and Traffickers (Oasiss) has allowed the sharing of intelligence, and the prosecution of criminal organizations in the border region. According to a communique of the Mexican Foreign Office, this program started in 2005 and it is a tool of binational cooperation. Its objectives are as follows:
"To guarantee the safety and protection of the migrant."
"To fight organized crime, and the human trade."
This is a problem that affects both sides and according to Doolitle the transportation cells are based as far away as Los Angeles.
Wayne Jackson, Patrol Agent in Charge of the Campo Station, said the terrain is similar, and goes "all the way to Mount Laguna." Some of these migrants walk up to six days up to Sunrise Highway, putting everybody at great risk from traffic and exposure to extreme cold in winter. He added that they "have incidents at I-8 daily."
He also mentioned that after the murder of Agent Robert Rosas in 2009, agents’ have not lost their focus in the field. "They take it pe
rsonally when people cross near the white cross" where he fell. Agents will track a single suspect and make the arrest.
Beeson concluded by discussing Martel Valencia Cortez, a wanted suspect who is still at large. He also asked the public to call 619-498-9900 if you see any suspicious activities, such as unexplained lights, propane tanks, batteries out of place, solar panels, radios, generators or unexpected trash.
Beeson also announced a citizen academy where citizens can learn more of what the Border Patrol does.