Peeking Beyond Hampton Terrace: My night on the Juarez Border, Pt.1
Last night, I got a break from Hampton Terrace and a chance to see "Border Wars" from the front seat of a Border Patrol cruiser. Like my 24-oz. steak at Cattlemen's Steakhouse...it did not disappoint. As another agent told me before sundown, "It will get crazy."
My son-in-law, Jeff, has been a Border Patrol Agent for almost two years. A former Marine MP, he is not fazed by the job...in fact, he enjoys what he does. So what does he do?
El Paso is a town of almost a million people. It is the home of Fort Bliss, the largest military base in the US and named one of the safest cities in America. Literally across a ditch...as you can see in the photo below is Juarez, Mexico, the most dangerous city in the world, population 2+ million. In the first two months of 2011, 8,000 people have already been murdered. Jeff helps keep one world from spilling into the other.
On the face of it, people assume he is supposed to keep Mexicans out of the US. Not true at all. Each and every day, thousands of Mexicans walk or drive each direction across the small overpass over the border to work, visit family or shop. Also, thousands of Mexicans are allowed each year to come in and become US citizens. Many have family already in El Paso.
The people Jeff must stop are "undesirables." People who deal drugs, have criminal records, or have already been deported from the US. Only desperate people would chance a dangerous crossing through an area that seems similar to the beach at Normandy. MUCH of the traffic is orchestrated by the cartels, in organized pushes designed to overwhelm the defenses at any given moment.
Many of the crossers are not Mexicans at all, but are people who would not be able to get into any US customs check-point.
So why El Paso? Well, on each side of El Paso are mountains and long stretches of desert. It is quite possible for someone to cross there, but cameras can easily see the dust created by someone trudging across the expanse, or their infrared heat silhouette at night and agents on ATVs will always get to them.
So that leaves El Paso, where a mad dash means success a certain percentage of the time. The stretch they have to patrol seems about 5 miles or so, and tracks the bed of the Rio Grande...which is not much more than a ditch. Why? It turns out that a dam north of El Paso holds most of its flow for irrigation and for drinking water. When there is a need for water in the city, most of it comes in via controlled canals. One of those canals runs parallel to the actual river bed, and has become part of the defense.
Other than the ditch and the canal, the protection is very inconsistent. Stretches have chain link, which show patch repairs every few feet. The George W. Bush fence is high, and nice, but starts and stops often, like they ran out of money. It also is not impervious to cutting, and shows numerous repairs. None of these fences seem all that daunting and all of them could be quickly crossed by several people running full tilt at them, throwing a ladder up, and hurling themselves over. So that is why there is a Border Patrol.
Jeff and I started out about 5 pm when the sun was still high. Most of his fellow agents are assigned to specific check-points on the line. On this particular evening, it was a best-case scenario for me: Jeff was a "roamer," someone with the freedom to jump from hot spot to hot spot to help out. We would head to the "action."
Check out tomorrow's blog for a description of my night and action video!