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Arizona border: Unwatched and unguarded

Editor’s note: J. Zane Walley has covered U.S.-Mexico border issues extensively, including breaking the story for WorldNetDaily about the increase in Middle Eastern illegals entering the U.S. via Mexico. WND recently reported that several Iraqi nationals were caught sneaking illegally across the border into Arizona. Walley files this column subsequent to two recent news reports: that 18,000 Mexican troops have been deployed to the border region, and that Iraqis armed with millions of dollars tried to pay to be smuggled into the U.S.

President Ronald Reagan nailed it hard and clean nearly two decades ago: “The simple truth is that we’ve lost control of our own borders, and no nation can do that and survive. We ignore America’s lost sovereignty at our peril.”

The peril described by Reagan is glaringly apparent on the “Cochise Strip” border of southern Arizona.

The young Border Patrol Officer was lost when he approached me on the Arizona/ Mexican Borderline He pulled up in his official white and green vehicle, motioned me to the window, gave a big grin and pointed to a map on the passenger’s seat.

“Do you know where the limestone mill is?” he asked. “I am from New Mexico,” I said indicating the bright yellow license plates on my truck. “I’m lost myself, but I believe it is toward Douglas,” and pointed west along the boundary fence.

“Thanks,” he said. “I have just been detailed here from San Diego and don’t know where anything is!” He gave a smile, and drove off in a cloud of reddish dust.

Dirt trail and barbered-wire cattle fence that delineates U.S. and Mexico in Sonoran Desert.

I was standing 30 miles from any town at the bullet-riddled United States boundary marker 90 in the notorious “Cochise Strip” looking at a very large hole in the tattered fence with fresh tracks leading from Mexico into the U.S. According to retired border patrolmen and locals, marker 90 is commonly known as a heavily used crossing area for drug and human smugglers.

A very large box (used for hauling equipment) and three other people were in my truck, and the patrolman asked for directions? One of the folks sitting in the truck was Dave Stoddard, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Border Patrol, or USBP. I asked Dave, “What do you think of that? He didn’t check us out and was lost.” Dave shrugged and said, “Nothing surprises me anymore.”

I wasn’t surprised either. I had traveled the dirt trail and barbered-wire cattle fence that delineates America and Mexico in the badlands of the Sonoran Desert day and night between March 25 and 28. Where normally a dozen or better USBP units would have been scouting, only two units were encountered. On one backcountry trip, I joined with infrared scope-equipped civilian border observers. For three hours on a pass near La Montaza de la Cabeza del Negro, we surveyed an area with an unobstructed view that stretched for more than 30 miles. No U.S. Border Patrol vehicles were observed.

Bullet-riddled United States boundary marker 90 in the notorious “Cochise Strip.”

The American Border Patrol, a citizen’s watchdog group, had a similar report. On March 21, during a seven-hour border watch in Cochise County, leader Glenn Spencer noted, “We didn’t see a border patrol official all day, including the trip to and from the mission site.” The organization was on the borderline at the same time that many media outlets were reporting CIA sources had divulged that several Iraqis, possibly bearing biological and chemical weapons, were trying to hire human smugglers to help them cross into the U.S. from Mexico.

Chris Simcox of Civil Homeland Defense, another borderlands observation group, acknowledged that his organization watched a 20-mile section of the Arizona border from 3 p.m. until midnight on March 22. “There was no border patrol, but many unidentified illegal aliens,” he reported.

The borderline was stripped of essential personnel on March 18. On that date, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano revealed in a conference call with the Cochise County Board of Supervisors that the Border Patrol will double the amount of people at the ports of entry, that the manpower to accomplish this will be taken from the regular patrol efforts, and that the result will be much fewer agents in the field. The governor said an increase in illegal border crossings is anticipated.

Concurrent with Napolitano’s announcement that border officers would be reassigned to ports of entry, the Mexican news agency Notimex published a press release indicating that Mexico had deployed 18,000 troops to provide security at the U.S. border. Interior Minister Santiago Creel said the soldiers were to help prevent the infiltration of terrorists into the United States.

A civilian border observer.

The promised Mexican soldiers had not arrived along the border in Cochise County as of March 29. Dave Stoddard began periodically checking Mexican military garrisons along the border on March 21. “They are empty,” he reported. “I saw a few people in civilian clothing at one location, but no troops.”

On March 29, the situation remained unchanged. I traveled along the Arizona border to all known locations where Mexican troops are customarily based. Not a human, civilian or military, was observed.

The decision to reduce patrols in the very areas where the majority of illegal traffic occurs was made by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Doug Browning, deputy commissioner of customs and border protection, said that the group was “committed to finding ways to balance the legitimate needs of border security while facilitating the movement of commerce.” Mexican officials have pressured Homeland Security and have complained that stepped-up security at U.S. ports of entry has slowed the flow of commercial traffic and inconvenienced pedestrians. Adolfo Aguilar, national security adviser to President Vicente Fox stated, “There is a danger of strangling our border,”

As Operation Iraqi Freedom was mounted, the Department of Homeland Security raised the national threat level from an “elevated” to “high” (orange) risk of a terrorist attack. Nevertheless, the Arizona Cochise Strip, an area that is well-documented as an illegal crossing for Middle Easterners, is largely unwatched and unguarded.

About March 29, the USBP detailed 70 officers from San Diego who were largely inexperienced in the corrugated Sonoran Desert to replace the seasoned Arizona personnel. On the same date, the Daily News, Washington Bureau, reported that an Iraqi terror team armed with millions of dollars tried to be smuggled into the U.S. through Mexico to Crawford, Texas, the site of President Bush’s ranch.

Border Patrol spokesman Rob Daniels stated, “Since Sept. 11, we’re restricted in what we can say about OTMs (Illegal aliens Other Than Mexicans) because of national security.” Indeed, U.S. Border Patrol officers and Immigration and Naturalization Service agents have been warned by their superiors not to discuss the illegal immigration situation with the press except with prior permission and instructions as to what to say.

This censorship garbed in the cloth of national security creates two situations. First, journalists cannot accurately report the actual numbers of illegals entering America. Second, the immigration hierarchy is not accountable to the public because the numbers cannot be reported.

Retired patrolman Stoddard notes, “There is so many OTMs that there is now a special designation for those that might pose a threat. They call them SIAs, or Special Interest Aliens.”

This article made possible by a grant from the Paragon Foundation.