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A U.S. Border Patrol officer has encountered four heavily armed Mexican army soldiers on the U.S. side of the border near San Diego.

The soldiers, armed with three submachine guns and one M-16 rifle, crossed the border near Tecate, Mexico, while on a counter-drug mission, Border Patrol spokesman James Jacques said. They were all dressed in camouflage fatigues, said officials.

A Border Patrol agent, who was not identified in the SanDeigoChannel.com report, said he was following footsteps left by the Mexican patrol. When he encountered them, one of the Mexican soldiers had his sidearm unholstered.

The agent then unholstered his sidearm and identified himself. He told superiors the Mexican troopers then realized they were inside the U.S. and cooperated with the Border Patrol agent, who took them to a nearby Border Patrol station.

Their identities were verified by the Mexican consulate and other U.S. officials before they were returned to Mexico via the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The report did not say whether their weapons were confiscated.

“This could easily have escalated into a real tragedy,” Jacques told reporters. “Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.”

The Border Patrol’s Washington, D.C., headquarters did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The March 10 incident signals a growing trend of Mexican military forces crossing into the United States.

In March 2000, WorldNetDaily reported that a group of Mexican soldiers fired on Border Patrol officers.

On March 14, 2000, “two Mexican army Humvees carrying about 16 armed soldiers drove across the international boundary and into the United States near Santa Teresa, New Mexico,” said a statement issued at the time by the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing about 8,300 “non-supervisory” Border Patrol personnel.

There the vehicles pursued a Border Patrol vehicle, which was “outfitted with decals and emergency lights (that were activated for much of the pursuit) over a mile into the United States,” the union said.

The lead Mexican army vehicle, said the council, contained nine soldiers “armed with seven automatic assault rifles, one submachine gun and two .45 caliber pistols,” and was eventually apprehended by other Border Patrol units.

The second Mexican army Humvee, however, “pursued a Border Patrol agent on horseback and fired a shot at him. The soldiers then disembarked their vehicle, fired upon one more Border Patrol agent and chased another agent before fleeing [back] to Mexico in their vehicle.”

Then, in November, two border patrolmen who had just disembarked from a “clearly marked Border Patrol helicopter” immediately came under fire from a 10-man unit of what appeared to be soldiers with the Mexican army, according to L. Keith Weeks, vice president of the National Border Patrol Union Local 1613 in San Diego, Calif.

The second incident reportedly occurred Oct. 24 in Copper Canyon, about eight miles east of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.

About eight shots were fired, Weeks said. “Once other Border Patrol agents neared the scene, the soldiers retreated to Mexico and drove off in a minivan,” he added.

News of the incursion comes as President Bush earlier this week convinced the House leadership to attach an amnesty bill to a series of other non-controversial bills that usually don’t require much debate. The measure was passed.

Critics of Bush’s bill say the granting of amnesty to millions of illegals rewards illegal behavior, worsens domestic security and demoralizes the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies charged with enforcing immigration laws.

On Wednesday, Bush signed into law the “Family Sponsor Immigration Act of 2002,” which, the White House said, “allows an alternative family member to sign the necessary affidavit of support for an alien in the event of the death of the relative who initially filed a petition for permanent resident status for the alien.”

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