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An official at the Embassy of Mexico in Washington, D.C., who asked that his name not be used, has confirmed to Human Events that Mexican military personnel or law enforcement officers crossed the U.S. border – without authorization – 23 times in 2001.

The official was confirming the claim of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, who said in a May 1 press release there had been 23 incursions by Mexican authorities.

Later, the Mexican official backed off his confirmation after his embassy was called by the U.S. State Department.

“This happened, I believe, 23 times in the last 16 months,” the Mexican embassy press officer told Human Events the evening of May 8. “There have been no documented cases this year. We don’t like the word ‘incursions’ because that is a military term for taking up a position. … In some cases, it was civilian [law enforcement], and some cases it was military.” In most of the 23 cases, he said, the Mexican authorities were pursuing “drug traffickers or smugglers.” In the “vast majority” of cases, he said, the authorities did not realize they had entered the United States. In Mexico, he said, military personnel participate in combating drug trafficking. He refused to comment on those cases where Mexican police or military crossed the border on purpose. “I don’t want to talk about particular cases,” he said.

Asked if there were no conflicts between the Mexican and U.S. governments over any of the cases, he said, “I’m not saying that.”

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department, who also did not want to be identified by name, told Human Events the afternoon of May 8, before this reporter first spoke to the Mexican Embassy official, that Tancredo’s figure was wrong.

“We have checked, and that number does not square with our numbers,” said the U.S. official. “Our number is closer to half-a-dozen.”

After being asked, on May 9, to reconcile his claim of “half-a-dozen” incursions with Tancredo’s and the Mexican Embassy’s claim of 23, the State Department official said, “I checked around, and we are standing by our figure of about half-a-dozen. We also checked with the Mexican Embassy, and they said that they did not confirm to you the number of 23.”

When called a second time, the same Mexican embassy official told a different story.

“I never gave any specific numbers,” he said. “That number [23] sounds too high to me.” But, he said, he did not have any actual figures himself. “I don’t have any specific numbers,” he said. He said that he had requested a figure from the central Mexican government but had not yet received a response.

Last month, Tancredo went on a fact-finding trip to Arizona’s Coronado National Forest, which runs along the Mexican border for 60 miles and is increasingly frequented by drug and alien smugglers. Sources there told him about incursions into the region by Mexican military and police.

Back in Washington, the congressman brought the issue to the State Department and was told by a State Department official that the Mexicans had made 23 incursions in 2001.

Tancredo says the State Department official told him: “We are in high-level discussions with the Mexican government over this.”

Tancredo says he asked the official if some of the Mexican incursions may have been to protect, rather than pursue, drug smugglers. “He said that they had concerns but did not have proof of that,” said Tancredo. “No one saw [the Mexican authorities] chasing anyone.”

Tancredo says the official also told him Mexican Army members were found in a drug-smuggling tunnel discovered under Nogales, Ariz., on Dec. 11.

Like the Mexican Embassy, the State Department refused to discuss particular cases.

The Mexican government wants to play down the incidents. According to an “unofficial translation” provided by the Mexican Embassy, Mexican Ambassador Juan Jos? Bremer told Tancredo in a May 3 letter: “The excellent level of political dialogue that currently exists between the governments of Mexico and the United States has allowed [the parties], in each and every case of supposed unnoticed or accidental crossings of Mexican or U.S. personnel into the territory of the other country, to fully clarify the circumstances through the diplomatic channels, as well as through the open dialogue that exists between local authorities of both countries along our common border.”

Dan Bauer, an official with the U.S. Forest Service who accompanied Tancredo on his Arizona trip, said that in addition to officially documented incursions, there have been others involving people “who appear to be Mexican military or paramilitary.”

There are only five Forest Service law enforcement officers in the Coronado National Forest. They and other law enforcement officers sometimes face “armed men in Humvees who are part of drug-smuggling operations,” said Bauer. “Last year, 90,000 pounds of marijuana were interdicted in Coronado. We deal with thousands of undocumented aliens coming through that area every year.”

Americans camping or hiking in the forest, he said, face safety problems because of the criminal activity. “We make seizures in highly developed campground areas several times a week,” he said. “Smugglers have worn trails in the forest that look like Forest Service trails.”

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