About Border Patrol Praises Help From Guard
|December 28th, 2006||#1|
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Border Patrol Praises Help From Guard info
December 28, 2006
By Daniel Gonzalez, The Arizona Republic
NOGALES - National Guard soldiers Louis Chraston and Randy Carnright stood on a hill overlooking the U.S.-Mexican border, M-16 rifles strapped across their chests.
A cold wind whipped across the desert as they took turns peering through binoculars, trying to spot illegal immigrants or drug smugglers slipping into the country. But the soldiers knew the chance of actually spotting someone was slim. They were in for another long, boring shift.
Six months after President Bush sent about 6,000 National Guard members to help secure the porous southern border, there are signs the strategy is reducing illegal immigration.
Apprehensions of undocumented immigrants in Arizona fell more than 11 percent this year compared with last year, and they fell more than 8 percent borderwide.
Judging the impact
Using arrests to measure illegal traffic is debatable. No one really knows how many people cross into the U.S. illegally and undetected. Pinpointing the Guard's impact also is difficult. The troops were there for only four months of the fiscal year, though apprehensions continued to decline this fiscal year.
But the Border Patrol says apprehensions are down primarily because the Guard and scores of additional agents have made it harder to cross illegally. Guard troops conduct observation and perform other duties that free up agents to go out into the field. Armed personnel in the field also act as a deterrent.
While officials wait for more new agents, the troops also have improved roads, built barriers, flown missions and increased surveillance.
Arizona received the bulk of the Guard troops after tighter border security in Texas and California turned the state into the most popular corridor for illegal immigration.
More than a quarter of the 5,700 Guard members currently deployed on the southern border are assigned to Arizona. They fulfill duties from fixing Border Patrol vehicles to answering phones.
But where they have proved the most effective is in places like Smuggler's Gulch, a deep ravine east of Nogales.
Stemming the flow
Just a few months ago, the ravine was a popular spot for illegal immigration.
Daily, 50 to 60 people would climb over a rusting wall, sprint through the ravine and disappear into the outskirts of town.
Not anymore. Four-man teams made up of Guard troops from New York are now perched above the ravine round-the-clock. Equipped with binoculars, night-vision goggles and powerful flashlights they call "God lights," the troops radio the Border Patrol whenever they spot someone trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
It was Chraston and Carnright's turn to man the observation post one recent Saturday when they spotted someone who had just jumped into the U.S.
"We got out the God light, and we put it on him," Carnright said.
Minutes later, Border Patrol agents in vehicles swooped in and arrested the border-crosser.
Since the troops began arriving in June, illegal border crossings along Smuggler's Gulch have slowed to a trickle. The Border Patrol says observation posts like this one are the reason.
"That gives us an extra set of eyes and ears," said Josť Luis Maheda, a Border Patrol field operations supervisor.
In all, more than 700 Guard members from 21 states currently are assigned to conduct observation along the Arizona border.
The presence of armed personnel is also having an effect. Maheda calls it the "deterrence factor."
The military personnel are purposely positioned in wide-open places where they are easily visible.
Undocumented immigrants know it has become harder to cross, so the Border Patrol says fewer are trying.
Apprehensions in Arizona have dropped significantly compared with last year, Border Patrol data shows.
In the Tucson Sector, which includes Nogales, apprehensions fell 11 percent, to 392,999 in fiscal 2006, which ended Sept. 30.
In the Yuma Sector, apprehensions fell 14.3 percent, to 118,544.
Borderwide, apprehensions fell more than 8 percent, to fewer than 1.1 million.
Belinda Reyes, a University of California-Merced sociologist who studies migration, said she has seen no evidence the troops have deterred illegal immigration. Job availability in the U.S. and Mexico are bigger factors.
"People may just be crossing at other places or using fraudulent documents to get in," she said.
Many duties for troops
While Chraston and Carnright stood on the border trying to spot illegal crossers, Guard troops back at the Nogales substation carried out other duties. More than 160 Guard members are assigned to Nogales, which has 570 Border Patrol agents, the largest of any Border Patrol station in the nation, officials said.
Spc. Kirsten Schultz, a 21-year-old member of the Wisconsin National Guard, answered phones and manned the controls of automatic doors leading into a detention center. Over in the garage, Sgt. Amir Gomez, 25, of Tucson, and Spc. Diego Sansores, 31, of Globe, finished replacing the fenders on a Border Patrol truck.
Guard troops from engineering units have built an all-weather road alongside the border. That has made it easier for agents to drive into the field.
Some Guard members fly helicopters over rugged desert terrain to spot and report illegal immigrants and drug smugglers to agents on the ground. Guard members, however, leave law enforcement and interdiction to the Border Patrol.
Border Patrol officials say the work being done by Guard troops has freed 108 agents in Arizona to go out into the field. The troops are intended to serve as a stopgap until the Border Patrol has time to recruit, hire and train 6,000 additional agents by the end of 2008.
In June, the National Guard plans to cut in half the number of troops deployed along the border. The Border Patrol, meanwhile, is struggling to find enough qualified candidates.
The agency plans to add 2,500 agents this fiscal year and have a total of 18,000 by the end of 2008.
But it's unclear whether the agency will be able to meet those goals. The Border Patrol estimates it will have to interview 500,000 people to find 6,000 qualified candidates.
So far, the Border Patrol has hired 367 new agents. An additional 739 are in training at the Border Patrol academy in New Mexico.
But many candidates wash out before graduating or don't pass muster once they get out in the field.
Maintaining the mission
Chraston, 21, Carnright, 24, are from upstate New York. Both are members of the 108th Infantry: Chraston out of Geneseo, Carnright out of Utica. More than 130 Guard members from New York currently are serving in Arizona.
Chraston and Carnright postponed plans to attend college when they volunteered to help secure the border.
Their six-month tour ends in April, when they will be replaced by more troops.
Before volunteering to serve on the border, Carnright spent a year with his unit in Iraq.
The war has already strained Guard and Reserve units.
But Maj. Paul Aguirre, a spokesman for the Arizona National Guard, downplayed the possibility the war could undercut the Guard's ability to maintain troop levels along the border.
"The Arizona National Guard has never been busier," Aguirre said. "But there hasn't been any mission we haven't been able to support."
As for Chraston and Carnright, their shift that day on Smuggler's Gulch ended the way it began, with no activity.
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