Border blunders

Posted: May 31, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In Greek mythology, the hero Hercules was sentenced to perform a series of seemingly insurmountable tasks -- the most odious of which was to cleanse the pungent, manure-filled Augean stables. To accomplish this detestable chore, he diverted two rivers through the stable and completed his unpleasant duty without getting soiled. Attorney General John Ashcroft should be so lucky. He has the Herculean task of cleaning the dung and detritus left behind at the Justice Department by eight years of Janet Reno. Unfortunately for Ashcroft, he can't divert the Anacostia and Potomac rivers through the offices of his far-flung department like Hercules. But that hasn't stopped him from trying. This week theA.G., with FBI Director Robert Muller standing beside him, announced sweeping changes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. To combat terrorism, the bureau gets a new mission, new equipment, new people and a new organizational structure. It's a necessary and, one hopes, effective first step. But now Ashcroft must address an even more daunting task, which is no less important: cleaning out the stables of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Responsible for regulating immigration into this country, the INS has a law-enforcement arm, 9,500 men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol, to supervise America's 8,000 miles of borders. Unfortunately for them, the INS's recent history is even more alarming than the FBI's -- which, last summer, was accused of ignoring pleas by field agents in Minneapolis and Phoenix to investigate the possibility that al Qaeda terrorists were attending U.S. flight schools. In 1996, the Clinton-Gore administration, under the auspices of its "National Performance Review," pressured the INS to naturalize 1 million aliens in time to register to vote in the 1996 presidential election. In the process, the INS ignored 5,000 arrest reports on alien applications sent to the agency by the FBI and failed to conduct criminal background checks on over 180,000 applicants. On March 11, 2002 -- six months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- the INS notified a Florida flight school that visas had been approved for Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi -- two of the suicide-hijackers killed on 9-11. Now, thanks to the investigative work of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., we've learned that since 1996, the INS bureaucracy has been covering up cross-border incursions by armed Mexican military and law-enforcement personnel. According to Tancredo, in the last six years, at least 118 incursions have occurred across the U.S. border -- 61 by Mexican military and 57 by Mexican law-enforcement personnel. "Last year," he told me, "there were 23 recorded incidents -- most of them transpiring in areas frequented by drug traffickers and body smugglers," the people who slip illegal aliens into the country for a fee. "And worse yet," he said, "these corrupt Mexican
Federales (END ITAL) and soldiers who provide armed cover for this invasion are shooting at U.S. Forest Service, Indian Police and Border Patrol officers." He cited an incident on May 17, when a Border Patrol agent came under fire near Ajo, Ariz. The agent told Tancredo that he saw three Mexican soldiers in a HUMMV, at least 5 miles inside the U.S. border, when one of them opened fire and shot out two windows of the U.S. officer's Chevy Tahoe. "This is unacceptable, it's tantamount to an act of war," said the congressman, a member of the House International Relations Committee. "Can you imagine the outcry if, God forbid, Al Gore was president?" He's right. And the Border Patrol agents I talked to, while requesting anonymity, agreed. They say that the Bush-Cheney administration has "disarmed" them -- to appease Mexican President Vicente Fox. One officer said, "We're up against Mexican federal police and soldiers, armed with automatic weapons, protecting drug deliveries, sometimes miles inside the United States, and all we have are pistols." And a Forest Service ranger complained that "the fires these 'transiters' started have burned more than 35,000 acres. We can't even drop fire-retardant chemicals because there are so many illegals in the forest. Why aren't the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth screaming about that?" Why indeed. And why hasn't the Mexican government answered the simple questions posed to Fox by Tancredo? In a letter to the Mexican president, the congressman asked if "any disciplinary or legal actions" are being taken against the Mexican soldiers and law-enforcement officers who violate our border. Juan Jose Bremer, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, wrote back, chastising the congressman for his "impolite and inadequate tone." But he didn't answer the question. Ashcroft must stand up for the beleaguered Border Patrol, clean out the INS bureaucracy and insist that the Mexican government respond. Meanwhile, an unknown bard among those who guard our borders has reduced their lament to doggerel: "We're the 'Battling Bastards' -- the Border Patrol; forgotten, ignored, like we fell in a hole. We're outnumbered, outgunned and now overrun. The border looks fine when you're out in the sun. But when the sky gets dark and turns into night, the Border Patrol gets ready to fight. Smugglers, Federales and dopers all roll, against the 'Battling Bastards' -- the Border Patrol.