Border Patrol Program Improves Security on US-Mexican Border

26 June 2008

Arrests of illegal aliens along the US/Mexico border have increasedover the past year according to records of the US Department ofHomeland Security. The records show a 73 percent increase in arrestsand prosecutions over the past year. Officials attribute the increaseto Operation Streamline, through which illegal entrants are chargedwith a misdemeanor crime, prosecuted and sent to jail. The programbegan in the US Border Patrol's Del Rio sector more than two years agoand, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Del Rio, it appears to haveworked.

The rugged terrain on this section of the border wasonce a favored area for both human and drug smugglers. Before December2005, Mexicans caught here by the Border Patrol were sent back acrossthe border right away and citizens of other nations (OTMs) werereleased after being assigned a court date, for which very few of themever showed up.

But under Operation Streamline any foreignercaught without documents here is arrested and faces, on average, amonth-long jail sentence before being sent home. Border Patrol agentMark Qualia says the increase in arrests and incarcerations has led toa significant drop in illegal border crossings.

"On Mexicanapprehensions we are down 32 percent from when we initially startedOperation Streamline and then 63 percent on the other than Mexicans,the OTMs," he noted.

Qualia says the same zero-tolerance approach is now being implemented elsewhere along the 3,000 kilometer border.  

Hesays US citizens living along the border near Del Rio have expressedrelief as the flow of immigrants and drug smugglers slows.

鈥漅anchersin the community have made several comments. Their fences are not astorn up. They don't see the traffic they used to see," he added. "Soas a whole people are extremely pleased with what Operation Streamlinehas brought to this community."

But both illegal aliens and drug smugglers have another option here, water.

Justupstream from the town of Del Rio is a bi-national dam that holds backwater from the Rio Grande and two other rivers to form the 263square-kilometer reservoir called Lake Amistad.

The BorderPatrol has its own little navy here, consisting of six patrol boats anda number of smaller craft. Agent Mark Nunez overseas some of the boatoperations.

"We watch traffic that is coming in and out throughhere and, hopefully, if we see any kind of traffic that is coming inthen we go ahead and intercept and inspect," he said.

Buoys markthe line between US and Mexican waters. Smugglers often positionthemselves in a cove in Mexican waters to begin their run across thelake to designated areas where they quickly offload the drugs forcounterparts on the other side to retrieve. Nunez says constant patrolshave made it harder for the traffickers.

"We have put a dent insome of their drug operations based on some of the operations we havebeen able to do out here with the boat," he added. "We haveintensified the patrol and try to get as much patrol time out here aspossible."

But Nunez says drug smugglers are not always easy to catch.

"Some of these boats are pretty quick and they are quicker than the patrol boats that we have," he noted.

TheBorder Patrol has asked for increased funds to buy faster boats in anever-ending effort to keep up with the smugglers whose operations arewell funded by their illicit enterprises.