Border agents face increased violence, injury

Sean Holstege
The Arizona Republic

Recent attacks on Border Patrol agents near the Arizona-Mexico border reflect a yearlong trend of escalating violence faced by agents, authorities say.

Late last week, an unidentified agent stopped a truck northwest of Douglas after a report of illegal immigrants crossing the border. According to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, the agent somehow got caught in the truck’s door and was dragged 20 feet.

The agent shot the driver in the left thigh, authorities said. The agent was treated and released from a Douglas hospital. The driver was airlifted to a Tucson hospital.

That followed the Jan. 19 death of Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar, who was killed when the driver of a Humvee struck him in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. Three days later, Mexican authorities arrested a man they believe to be the killer hiding in a cemetery 230 miles away in the Sonoran hamlet of Yaqui.

“The smugglers are getting more brazen. They don’t want to lose their loads. They’ll do whatever they have to,” said Border Patrol Agent Jesus Rodriguez “They continue to use vehicles as a weapon.”

Border Patrol statistics show that attacks on agents along the Mexican border increased 34 percent in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared with the prior fiscal year, at a time when arrests were down 20 percent.

Everywhere along the border, the rate of attacks per arrest went up last year, especially in the Yuma area.

There, agents were attacked 4.6 times for every 1,000 arrests, a more than three-fold jump from the previous year.

The borderwide average was 1.1 attacks per 1,000 arrests, a 70 percent increase from the year before. The Tucson Sector, the busiest human- and pot-smuggling area of the entire 1,950-mile border, saw a modest increase in violence.

The Border Patrol, though, hopes the violence may now be on a downward trend. Although the rate of attacks in the Yuma area may have increased since 2007, there were just 19 in the past three months, which is a significant drop from 94 in the last three months of 2006. The Border Patrol attributes the drop, and a corresponding drop in cross-border crossings, to security improvements.

On Monday, Aguilar will be laid to rest in a private ceremony in El Paso. The suspect in Aguilar’s death, Jesus Navarro Montes, told Mexican officials he unintentionally struck the agent because he was trying to evade a barrier. Aguilar was laying a chain of spikes to stop the Hummer.

Later, the vehicle was found torched in the Baja California city of Mexicali, where Navarro, now 22, lived most recently. He had served a year and a half in a Mexican prison at age 18 for human-smuggling charges.

The Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., said it has not received a request from the U.S. government to extradite Navarro. U.S. officials declined to discuss what they described as an open investigation.


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