SMUGGLERS CANYON, CALIF. -- This is the southwestern-most point of the continental United States. Several Mexican families swim in the Pacific Ocean on one side of the border fence, while a group of Americans walk the beach on the other side. I’ve come to see what our border agents face every day.
A 30-year old fence runs east through the populated area and over several hills and valleys in the distance. The border road on the American side is basically a dirt path. On the Mexican side, though, there’s a four-lane highway. The northern path is crossed by trails where dozens have come across illegally in recent months.
During my visit, a unit of the California National Guard was working with bulldozers and heavy equipment, clearing a path for a new fence to be built on the American side. Most of the action here happens after dark. Mid-day, however, we heard the car radio blast “ladder up” with a specific location. “Ladder up” means aliens are crossing.
A two-man Border Patrol unit waited at the end of a culvert. One agent was looking in. Then, 20 yards away, five unhappy aliens emerged with another Border Patrol agent following them. His usually impeccable uniform bore the marks of his crawl through the large culvert. I thanked him for his efforts. His immediate reply, which I would hear throughout the day: “Just doing my job, sir!”
These detainees will now be fingerprinted (as all illegal crossers are) with those prints run through a master list. First- or second-time offenders are simply sent back. Those caught multiple times face more elaborate procedures. They may be transported to a distant crossing point or even flown to an interior airport such as Mexico City.
Ironically, recent improvements in border security have made it possible for an upscale shopping center to be built virtually against the border fence on the American side. That’s a sign of progress, as is the fact that agents are catching fewer illegals.
At one time, a Border Patrol officer says, 20 percent of all illegal crossings happened in the San Diego Sector. Yet the number of apprehensions is down significantly because fewer people try to come in here. Once the fence is erected, it should enhance border security even further.
Meanwhile, the number of agents is increasing. And the mission is a good training ground. Giving practical experience to National Guard units as backup while more agents are trained and deployed is having a positive impact at the border -- and in the Guard.
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