Rising Violence Along Mexican Border
February 11, 2006
U.S. Cites Rise in Violence Along Border With Mexico
By RACHEL L. SWARNS
WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 — Mexican criminal syndicates are stepping up their attacks on American agents patrolling the border as officials of the Homeland Security Department intensify efforts to stem the flow of immigrants and drugs into the United States, American officials said this week.
In recent months, scores of Border Patrol agents have been fired upon or pelted with large stones as well as with cloth-covered stones that have been doused with flammable liquid and set ablaze. Since October, agents have been attacked in more than 190 cases, officials said on Thursday.
Most of the attacks have occurred along the Mexican border near San Diego, but shootings have also been reported along the border in Texas near the cities of Laredo and McAllen. In the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, there were 778 attacks on agents, up from 374 in the previous fiscal year, Homeland Security Department officials said.
One stone struck an agent in the eye; a gunshot hit an agent in the leg. The officials could not say precisely how many officers had been injured in the attacks, which have originated from both sides of the border.
"This is what we're facing," said David V. Aguilar, the Border Patrol chief, who played a videotape at a news conference on Thursday that featured a patrol car riddled with bullets and agents scrambling for cover as stones rained down on them. "This is a very serious type of situation."
The homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, who led the news conference, said officials planned to continue their efforts at securing the United States-Mexico border.
This week President Bush asked Congress to increase the Homeland Security Department's budget by nearly 6 percent. The Border Patrol would receive an extra $459 million to hire 1,500 new agents, bringing the total force to about 14,000. An additional $410 million would be allocated to add 6,700 beds for detainees so fewer illegal immigrants would have to be released before being deported. Another $100 million would be spent on cameras, sensors and other detection technology.
Mr. Chertoff said the department planned to focus on illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico, who have typically been released after apprehension because of shortages of beds. Last fall, he expanded the use of summary deportations, a process known as expedited removal, in which illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico are detained and then deported without seeing an immigration judge.
But officials have struggled to find space for family groups and remain unable to process illegal immigrants from El Salvador because of a court ruling from the 1980's, when civil war wracked that country, that requires officials to allow Salvadorans to see judges before deportation.
Nationwide, 18,207 illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico, nearly 60 percent of the total apprehended, were released on their own recognizance in the first three months of this fiscal year.
Officials of the Homeland Security Department said they were making headway in detaining and deporting these illegal immigrants. They are also working on finding more space for families and battling to change the rule regarding Salvadorans.
As for the violence on the border, the officials said Mexico had deployed 300 federal officers along its side of the border to help out. But many of the Mexican gangs remain entrenched.
Last week, immigration officials announced that they had seized a cache of weapons, including materials for 33 explosive devices, assault weapons and machine gun assembly kits, in Laredo. Officials believe the weapons were intended for criminals in Mexico.
"These are very sophisticated, hardened criminals who will use violence to protect their criminal businesses," Mr. Chertoff said. "We've got to be prepared to deal very decisively with any violence directed at our Border Patrol agents."
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