2000 — the year in review:
Frustration builds along the border
A Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report released last March found that Immigration and Border Patrol agents made up the lion’s share of an 11-percent increase in federal law enforcement in the late 1990s. But don’t try telling that to frustrated ranchers in Texas or Arizona who in many instances last year took justice into their own hands, or to local prosecutors, who threatened to stop handling cases involving small amounts of narcotics seized at the border unless they received funding from the Justice Department.
Local district attorneys in some Texas counties were still waiting in September for $12 million in emergency funds promised them in June after lawmakers cut a hasty deal to forestall a threatened work stoppage on cases involving small seizures of drugs.
Prosecutors complained that they were spending millions their jurisdictions could scarcely afford on hand-me-down cases referred by federal authorities. They backed off a July 1 deadline after Texas representatives came up with the last-minute appropriation that would be split evenly among that state, Arizona, California and New Mexico.
But disagreements flared over how the funds could be spent. Congress limited their use to “court costs, courtroom technology, the building of holding spaces, administrative expenses and indigent defense.” Infuriated prosecutors said the strict guidelines made no sense in light of the staggering costs of jail and prosecution that drove them to demand federal aid in the first place.
“The money is out there, but we can’t use it to pay for the places we’re taking a hit,” said Cameron County, Texas, District Attorney Yolanda DeLeon. The county’s annual tab for courtroom and jail expenses from federal drug prosecutions, she told The Associated Press, is $100 million.
Across the region, ranchers and other property owners began taking vigilante action last year to stop illegal aliens from crossing their land. Law enforcement officials in April reported that dozens of residents in Douglas, Ariz., had taken up arms, leading to occasional skirmishes and shots fired. The town became a gateway for illegal migration when enforcement was stepped up at other border crossings.
Anonymous appeals began appearing over the Internet, asking “tourists” to help ranchers defend their property. A “Neighborhood Ranch Watch” flier distributed through some area campgrounds called for volunteers who have trip wires, signal flares and watchdogs.
Other border-related incidents last year included:
The murder on May 13 of 23-year-old Eusebio deHaro, a Mexican who was shot from behind when he asked Kinney County, Texas, resident Samuel Blackwood, 75, for some water. Blackwood, who confessed to the shooting, was sued for wrongful death by relatives of the victim who are seeking $15 million in damages. Blackwood’s wife, Brenda, was also charged with failing to seek medical help for de Haro, leaving him to bleed to death.
In November, a group from Arlington, Texas, called the Ranch Rescue said it would mount an armed patrol in Kinney County in 2001. The group, which was formed in June, said it will help protect private property from trespassing immigrants. Ranch Rescue conducted one of its first operations in Arizona, where ranchers ran volunteer patrols that captured illegal immigrants and held them for the Border Patrol.
A Mexican activist, Carlos Ibarra Perez, responded to vigilante activity in the U.S. by offering a $10,000 bounty in June for the killing of Border Patrol agents. Agents in south Texas were put on alert and urged to wear body armor.
In May, the House of Representatives adopted a proposal that would allow the Defense Department, U.S. attorney general or U.S. Treasury secretary to assign military patrols to monitor problems, including vigilantism, along the border. The amendment was opposed by most Arizonans, who favored a more measured approach.
According to a BJS study released last year, nearly half of the 11-percent surge in the number of full-time federal law enforcement personnel between 1996 and 1998 came from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS swelled its ranks by 4,149 officers, an increase of 33 percent, during those years, with the number of officers in its Border Patrol division jumping by 42 percent, from 5,441 to 7,714.
Nearly all of the Border Patrol’s rapid growth, the study said, can be traced to deployment of officers in the Southwest.
And as recently as November, the Border Patrol had received a record 91,000 applicants and had hired 1,708 new agents, said agency officials. The agency used a mix of traditional and high-tech recruiting strategies, training 300 agents as recruiters; advertising on the Internet and through other media; offering same-day test results, and paying recruits a $2,000 bonus.
The Customs Service’s role in border control was augmented by the deployment last year of several sophisticated systems to improve security at the nation’s ports of entry:
The CTX-5500, a tractor-trailer-sized bomb-detection machine was put into use at Lindbergh Field in San Diego and six other facilities. The $1.4-million device uses CT-scanning, a medical diagnostic technique, to see through the contents of luggage.
BodySearch, an alternative to the pat-down for travelers suspected of smuggling contraband, uses X-rays that pass through the object and are then collected by a detector to create a detailed image. BodySearch allows agents to see through a person’s clothes and pinpoint anything hidden, such as packets of cocaine, explosives or weapons.
Similar to BodySearch is CargoSearch, which was deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border. In one instance, the system found 236 pounds of cocaine hidden in a truck’s tires, and in another case found 37 individuals hidden among crates of bananas.
IriScan, scanning technology that focuses on the features of the iris portion of the eye, was installed for the first time in the nation at Charlotte/Douglas airport in North Carolina. The system was used to control access to secure areas of the facility by workers without having to show identification.