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The Nation

Danger, Disorder in Patrol of South Border

Mexican military and police incursions add to the chaos for U.S. law enforcement, according to federal files obtained by a watchdog group.

September 12, 2006|Nicole Gaouette | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Mexican soldiers and police officers made more than 200 unauthorized incursions into U.S. territory from 1996 to Sept. 30, 2005, according to internal Homeland Security intelligence reports.

The annual intelligence summaries of "Mexican Government Incidents" were released Monday by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which obtained them through a Freedom of Information Act request and circulated detailed reports from 2003, 2004 and 2005.

The annual bulletins convey the chaos and danger of the border -- and the heart-wrenching losses for some of those trying to cross it.

Cooperation and confrontation are described between U.S. border agents and Mexican military or police, as when a Texas border agent on a river rescue mission radioed colleagues to say Mexican soldiers had trained their rifles in his direction. Also depicted are Mexican helicopters entering deep into U.S. territory and drug smugglers seemingly working under the escort of Mexican military boats.

Some summaries, including one describing the retrieval of the limp body of a 12-year-old Mexican girl who tried to cross the All-American Canal in El Centro, Calif., powerfully convey the desperation of would-be immigrants.

"People have a cartoonish view of the border. They don't realize how bad the violence is, the exploitation," said Christopher Farrell, Judicial Watch director of research and investigation. "It's pretty steady. It endangers people trying to protect the border and the people trying to cross."

The reports were not deliberately timed for release on Sept. 11, a Judicial Watch spokeswoman said.

The reports are available at www.JudicialWatch.org.

Border Patrol spokesman Mario Martinez said that with 12,086 Border Patrol agents plus local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on the U.S. side, and thousands of law enforcement officials on Mexico's side, encounters are to be expected -- particularly because the border is poorly marked in many areas.

Incursions have declined as border enforcement has improved, Martinez said. In fiscal years 2003 and 2004, there were 23 Mexican incursions onto U.S. soil. In 2005, there were 19.

In the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, there have been 14.

"As we see our presence grow in remote areas ... you'll see a reduction in the number of incursions," Martinez said.

"But it is dangerous," he added, citing Mexican smuggling organizations that try to "pass themselves off as military."

One January 2005 report described what seemed to be men in Mexican military vehicles firing on border agents.

In another report, from Yuma, Ariz., border agents described seeing a Mexican military Humvee, hearing shots and soon after picking up a group of illegal immigrants who said they had been robbed, beaten and shot at by Mexican soldiers who kept a woman from the immigrants' group.

The Mexican Embassy did not return calls for comment.

Most reports describe Mexican soldiers or police unintentionally crossing the border in pursuit of suspects, as when two Tijuana policemen entered San Ysidro, Calif., in April 2005. The previous month, border agents found three Mexican policemen, who were lost, near Calexico, Calif.

One Mexican soldier found hiding from New Mexico border agents in January 2003 said he was trying to get to Arizona and "a better-paying job."

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nicole.gaouette@latimes.com

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