SAN ANTONIO – Nowhere is the problem of lax border security and illegal immigration more prevalent than in American cities and towns scattered along the 1,950-plus miles of boundary separating the United States and Mexico. Part of the reason is geography, but part of the reason, too, is because these nether-regions are also thousands of miles away from Washington, D.C.

Though Americans inhabiting the border must endure the drug smuggling and violence, environmental damage, trash and filth, threats, occasional gunfire and constant fear and loathing, politicians making the rules don’t – and it’s obvious because they are doing little to fix this mounting quandary.

The latest casualties of this crisis are four U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilots, killed south of here in Falcon State Park along the border in mid-January while on an operation to assist the Border Patrol with drug interdiction. The choppers, part of Joint Task Force Six, reportedly collided while searching for smugglers.

Harry Beall, assistant chief of the McAllen Border Patrol Sector, said the military crews were helping Border Patrol agents from Laredo conduct anti-smuggling operations on Falcon Lake.

“They [the aircraft] were there to be our eyes and ears in the sky, and they were working the lake,” he said. “If they see a boat in the lake in the middle of the night which is suspicious, they call us.”

Added Armando Carrasco, a spokesman for the task force in El Paso: “[The choppers] were out there in the process of conducting a nighttime aviation reconnaissance counterdrug operation in known drug-trafficking areas.”

Whether these “official” versions of events are true or not is beside the point. These Marine pilots were killed defending our border from just one of the scourges which infest it on a daily basis. Casualties in this mounting war are bound to occur, but when they are in vain, it makes the loss that much greater. It also nails the futility of the effort because so little of our available capabilities are being employed in this war.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., head of the 65-member House Immigration Reform Caucus, has said the United States has the manpower – if it wants to use it – and, more importantly, the technological know-how to make our border much safer and less prone to illegal trafficking of all kinds if we would ever make up our minds to do so. From satellite imaging to ground sensors to thermal and heat-seeking eavesdropping devices, our border-control personnel could do much more if they were provided the tools and equipment – and were given the political support necessary.

Interestingly, the American people, by and large, support such tough measures, but our politicians do not. According to the non-partisan Center for Immigration Studies, a huge gap exists between the people and our leaders on this issue. The CIS study found that Americans are much more concerned about strengthening our own border and tightening immigration policies, especially since 9-11 – conclusions which are supported by other studies, incidentally – than is Washington.

Yet it isn’t as though our border problems are a huge secret to the policymakers. In the arena of drug smuggling alone, reports chief foreign correspondent Rob Krott in the March 2003 issue of Soldier of Fortune Magazine, the Drug Enforcement Administration “estimates that 80 percent of the cocaine and 50 percent of the heroin used in our country comes across the Mexican border.”

Regarding illegal traffic, Krott says that everyday “approximately 10,000 illegal aliens cross our southern border and violate U.S. immigration laws. Only one in three is caught and deported.”

Imagine now how much of this traffic is terrorism-related. Even if Democrats and Republicans are partial to the votes and cheap labor unlimited immigration brings, shouldn’t terrorism override that – especially since they created a huge new 170,000-employee Cabinet department to fight it?

This country isn’t simply losing this border war. It’s losing its identity, it’s autonomy and its ability to provide for its own people. It’s becoming Bosnia Major, and God help the world when it boils over.

The flagrancy with which our borders are violated is only equaled by the level of toleration for this outrage in Washington. Even now, the INS is implementing another program aimed at rewarding illegal aliens. And who says the Marine pilots didn’t die in vain? Say, what about that poor morale in some Border Patrol sectors?

From his grave Pancho Villa must be thinking, “I was born 100 years too late.”

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