Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Continued madness at border

Armed standoff along U.S. border. Police face Mexican military, smugglers
Daily Bulletin
http://www.dailybulletin.com/news/ci_3430815
Jan 24, 2006
Sara A. Carter and Kenneth Todd Ruiz

Mexican soldiers and civilian smugglers had an armed standoff with nearly 30 U.S. law enforcement officials on the Rio Grande in Texas on Monday afternoon, according to Texas police and the FBI. Mexican military Humvees were towing what appeared to be thousands of pounds of marijuana across the border into the United States, said Chief Deputy Mike Doyal, of the Hudspeth County Sheriff's Department.

Mexican Army troops had several mounted machine guns on the ground more than 200 yards inside the U.S. border -- near Neely's Crossing, about 50 miles east of El Paso -- when Border Patrol agents called for backup. Hudspeth County deputies and Texas Highway patrol officers arrived shortly afterward, Doyal said.

"It's been so bred into everyone not to start an international incident with Mexico that it's been going on for years," Doyal said. "When you're up against mounted machine guns, what can you do? Who wants to pull the trigger first? Certainly not us."

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the incident happened at 2:15 p.m. Pacific Time.

"Bad guys in three vehicles ended up on the border," said Andrea Simmons, a spokeswoman with the FBI's El Paso office. "People with Humvees, who appeared to be with the Mexican Army, were involved with the three vehicles in getting them back across."

Simmons said the FBI was not involved and referred inquiries to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE did not return calls seeking comment.

Doyal said deputies captured one vehicle in the incident, a Cadillac Escalade reportedly stolen from El Paso, and found 1,477 pounds of marijuana inside. The Mexican soldiers set fire to one of the Humvees stuck in the river, he said.

Doyal's deputies faced a similar incident on Nov. 17, when agents from the Fort Hancock border patrol station in Texas called the sheriff's department for backup after confronting more than six fully armed men dressed in Mexican military uniforms. The men -- who were carrying machine guns and driving military vehicles -- were trying to bring more than three tons of marijuana across the Rio Grande, Doyal said.

Doyal said such incidents are common at Neely's Crossing, which is near Fort Hancock, Texas, and across from the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

"It happens quite often here," he said.

Deputies and border patrol agents are not equipped for combat, he added.

"Our government has to do something," he said. "It's not the immigrants coming over for jobs we're worried about. It's the smugglers, Mexican military and the national threat to our borders that we're worried about."

Citing a Jan. 15 story in the Daily Bulletin, Reps. David Dreier, R-Glendora, and Duncan Hunter, R-San Diego, last week asked the House Judiciary Committee, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the House Homeland Security Committee and the House International Relations Committee to investigate the incursions. The story focused on a Department of Homeland Security document reporting 216 incursions by Mexican soldiers during the past 10 years and a map with the seal of the president's Office of National Drug Control Policy, both of which were given to the newspaper.

Requests by Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee, and Hunter were made in jointly signed letters.

On Wednesday, Chertoff played down the reports of border incursions by the Mexican military. He suggested many of the incursions could have been mistakes, blaming bad navigation by military personnel or attributing the incursions to criminals dressed in military garb.

Mexican officials last week denied any incursions made by their military.

But border agents interviewed over the past year have discussed confrontations those they believe to be Mexican military personnel.

"We're sitting ducks," said a border agent speaking on condition of anonymity. "The government has our hands tied."