As illegal immigration worsens along the nearly 2,200-mile border
between the United States and Mexico, another more deadly risk faces
today’s Border Patrol force: the prospect of being gunned-down at any
time by increasingly ambitious and dangerous drug runners.

Besides the Border Patrol, federal officers of many stripes have
become targets for drug lords who are offering rewards,

reportedly as
high as $200,000,
for every U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officer or other federal agent trying to keep the twin tides of illegal drugs and immigrants from flooding the states.

Well-financed and heavily armed, increasingly drug smugglers out of Mexico are “criminals who have proven they will resort to violence to protect their business interests,” said

on Friday, noting that violent assaults against federal agents along the southwest border have increased from 156 five years ago to 500 last year.

One DEA agent told reporters this week that, indeed, the word is that drug enforcement officers have a price on their head.

“A good trafficking organization has a larger budget than we do,” said DEA agent Bernie Minarik, one of 600 U.S. agents working the southwestern border.

Meanwhile, Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever says the drug smugglers have transformed his once-quiet Arizona county into a portal through which 75 percent of America’s illicit drugs enter the country — and where his deputies spend most of their time protecting federal officers.

Worse, Minarik said, the more busts an officer makes, the more “popular” he becomes to the cartels.

“They know who we are,” he said, adding that more busts usually means more attention from drug lords. The attention can be deadly, said Minarik. “They consider it a cost of doing business.”

New Mexican border patrol units are interdicting illegal immigrants before they reach the U.S.

For its part, Mexico is at least attempting to assist U.S. agents by cracking-down on drug use, if not drug lords, throughout the country. New border patrol units and anti-drug paramilitary patrols, often using equipment donated for the effort to Mexico City by Washington, do have some effect.

But Border Patrol officials in the states wonder how bad it would be otherwise; they see little difference on the other side.

U.S. lawmakers from southwestern states, as well as the Border Patrol unions, are making pleas to the Clinton administration to step-up efforts to stem both illegal immigration and the drug traffic.

Earlier this week, Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., said that without President Bill Clinton’s personal intervention and the introduction of more federal agents into Cochise County, a potentially explosive border situation will only get worse.

If Clinton fails to act, Kolbe said, he will have to bear the responsibility of anything that goes wrong along the border.

Sheriff Dever echoed Kolbe’s concern, saying the level of anxiety along the border is getting higher. And, he said, statements coming out of Washington, D.C. by Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Attorney General Janet Reno — who have no firsthand knowledge of the Arizona-Mexico border situation or what the people face — are only adding to the tension.

Kolbe said he had written a letter to Clinton, stating that people in border areas cannot take an evening stroll, some cannot go for a walk unarmed and many don’t want to leave their homes for fear of being robbed by the ever present mass of illegal immigrants.

The Arizona congressman also said it does not help that Albright appears to have sided with the Mexican government’s view that people protecting their property are vigilantes, adding that he considers Reno to be misinformed about the situation. Kolbe emphasized he was not denigrating the work being done by the U.S. Border Patrol in the area but, rather, the incompetence of INS bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., who he sees as the root cause of the problems.

Also, earlier this week, one Mexico mayor said his city would begin instructing Mexican nationals on how to get an asylum hearing in a U.S. court, once across the border. It was a pledge to declare a de facto war on the U.S. court system in retaliation for U.S. officials releasing illegals caught in the states back into the mayor’s city.

Related stories:

Mexicans declare border war

Mexico cries ‘red alert’

Border accident or bounty hunting?

The shooting war on the Mexican border

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.