Border Patrol Agent

Border Patrol Agent

Oscar

Charleston, SC

Male, 31

Spent a bit over four years (2006-2010) serving as a Border Patrol Agent in Tucson Sector, AZ: the busiest sector in the country. Worked numerous positions, and spent the last year and a half operating/instructing ground radar installations. Duties included: field patrols, transport, processing, control room duties, transportation check, checkpoint operations, static watch duties, etc.

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Last Answer on November 08, 2016

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Did you ever discover any drug tunnels? What's the most creative way you saw cartels getting drugs across the border?

Asked by olemiss2013 over 4 years ago

Our area of responsibility (AOR) was extremely busy because of the lack of cities on the border.  The open desert and no wall made it very appetizing to the cartels.  The tunnels you hear about tend to be in more built-up areas, namely cities which span the border (Nogales, AZ etc.).

Tucson Sector is responsible for something like 70-80% of all of the intercepted drugs coming into the country.  Most common: vehicles and backpackers ("mules").  It was very common to find groups of 10-20 backpackers, each carrying between 40-70 lbs. of marijuana on their back.  Trucks would routinely be loaded with 1500-2500 lbs., depending on size.

When possible, you'd also see convoys of cartel trucks, 2-3 at a time (yep, up to 5-7,000 lbs of marijuana in a single lump).  Marijuana is the bread-winner of the cartels.  The cocaine/meth etc. is much more discreetly smuggled/handled.

In some places you'll intercept entire big-rig trucks with massive 10,000+ lb. loads.  During the "busy season" of the drug smuggling, we'd catch around 25-35,000 lbs. a month, all catches combined.

The most ingenious method is probably the single biggest threat: ultralights.  This is the most concerning development in cartel operations.  They have a rather large armada of ultralight aircraft, capable of carrying 200-600 lbs. of cargo across the border, quietly in the air.  Running radar trucks I would occasionally get calls from our massive air traffic radars in California - I'd scan up into the sky with my FLIR camera and I could see the small aircraft coming across the border.

We had no real way of tracking/engaging these ultralights.  Occasionally we'd have a Blackhawk helicopter who could catch them.  One National Guard F-16 accidentally forced one to crash when checking it out.  These little tiny ultralight aircraft would fly into the U.S. as far as Phoenix.  One actually flew through the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's airspace --- causing them to place all commercial aircraft in a holding pattern.

The concern here is of course not marijuana (I support the legalization of that anyway - it's a farce); but the other potential cargo.  An ultralight could carry a couple of people (terrorists or other undesirables), or even a small weapon (a dirty bomb, chemical weapon etc.).  The ultralights were almost never properly intercepted or caught.  There are far too many intel reports about Al Qaeda and other organizations in Mexico and South America seeking to use the cartel's infiltration expertise.  This means that people or weapons could come in here very quickly, simply, and without detection.

So, personal opinion: ultralight aircraft are a serious problem.  Now, from a defensive perspective we could simply shoot them down - unannounced foreign aircraft crossing into U.S. airspace, etc. but the kinder/gentler modern U.S.A. would likely not abide such actions and would cry foul.

If you want info on drug tunnels, look into Nogales, AZ.  This place was so bad a few years before I joined the Patrol that we used to call it "Nogadishu", an homage to Mogadishu.  There was a time when cross-border shootings etc. were an every day occurence.  It was a bad place.

Just how porous is the U.S. / Mexico border? What percentage of it would you estimate is monitored in some capacity for illegal aliens?

Asked by dan79 over 4 years ago

The U.S./Mexico international border is extremely porous. While on paper the entire border is monitored, the reality is that our capacity to deter/intercept all of the illegal traffic is mediocre at best. Judging by the traffic patterns I saw, I would estimate my station/sector's capability at perhaps 30% of the overall traffic is intercepted effectively.

Those ultralight aircraft are pretty crazy! Are we that far away from cartels using unmanned drones?

Asked by penang.rui over 4 years ago

Remember ultralights are little flimsy aircraft run by lawn-mower motors etc.  I don't know how soon we'll be seeing unmanned drones from the cartels.  Now, cheap little camera-helicopters you can fly from your iPhone?  Maybe.  Maybe even some of the smaller, cheaper propeller driven ones eventually (the kind you can deploy as a single person, and control with a little control box from a backpack).  But genuine, long-distance, heavy duty drones with sophisticated cameras/weapons?  I wouldn't worry about that anytime soon.

Were you impressed with the caliber of people you worked with? Should the American public have confidence that US Border Patrol is competent and fair?

Asked by dan79 over 4 years ago

I was pretty impressed with the caliber of people in the Border Patrol.  The academy, while not extremely tough was tough enough to weed out the idiots.  There was a huge range of people in the Patrol.  A large portion of ex-military folks (ranging from simple 4-year in/outs up to PJ's, some older SF types, USMC Corpsmen etc.).

A smaller number of prior law enforcement types, and then the rest were normal people like myself with no particularly advantageous background (college grads and non-college grads).

The overwhelming amount of political correctness and red tape means that in most cases the Border Patrol is a bit "too fair".  Sometimes you need to cut the nonsense and get the job done, something that the agency itself hinders very often.  It's a very politcal job as you can imagine.  You'd be amazed how often we were subtly told to do our job...less well.

Like any job, and profession you do have a small number of idiots.  There seems to be a flawed public perception that all law enforcement agents/officers should be angellic beings of good who dole out divine justice etc.  Nope.  Agents were normal people too.  With overy 16,000 agents you definitely would have some bad apples.

There was a website active when I was serving called "Trust Betrayed" or something to that effect.  It was a website run by the agency highlighting agents and customs folks who had become criminals or had been caught breaking the law etc.  It happens.  Not often, but it's simple reality.  So, on the off chance that you run into that one dirtbag, your experience may be different than most.

As a whole, yes, the agency is competent and fair.

What was the most clever or inventive way you've seen illegals attempt to cross the border? How about the dumbest?

Asked by Elle C. over 4 years ago

Most clever that I personally encountered was a Mexican man who made his gown Ghillie suit (a camouflage suit that military snipers make out of netting/branches/grass etc.).  He had made it about seven miles into the country but surrended when a USBP horse patrol unit came so close they were about to step on him.

The dumbest was likely one of the many counterfeit vans which they tried to sneak across the border.  Mexicans occasionally try to recreate USBP vehicles.  They never do a very good job and you can pick them out almost immediately.

This particular van was painted up as a USBP van, had a cage inside etc.  However, about 1/4 mile into the U.S. the driver decided to bail out and run back south.  Because they'd taken so much time to replicate a USBP van, the inside of the van had a locked cage.  Units following the van saw the drive flee - and he left 30 other Mexicans locked up in the van.  Easiest apprehension those agents ever made.

How easy is it to forge a US passport? Even if you could get the look and feel right, isn't it basically impossible to embed the scannable barcode part? And wouldn't you have to hack the passport database to add a record so that it swiped properly?

Asked by smithy over 4 years ago

Forging a U.S. Passport would be very difficult.  Now, everything can be done at a certain price, so high-level criminals could likely swing a pretty convincing copy.  However, with the advent of barcodes/scanning techniques this has now become incredibly difficult.  Anyone can reproduce some watermarks, type, and photos...but to pass a scanning machine is extremely difficult.

I wish I had more opportunity to work a P.O.E. with Customs guys as this was something I had little experience in.  More common were fake Mexican ID cards - carried by people from other countries, trying to pass as Mexicans.  These were almost always cheap copies and easily detected/exposed.

What percentage of illegals attempting to cross the border would you estimate are successfully intercepted by Border Patrol? Is that figure improving or worsening compared to past years?

Asked by Quezon over 4 years ago

I'd say that of the groups that we detected or spotted we apprehended around 30-35%.  That figure improved quite a bit following 9/11, as DHS/CBP had a large hiring push and went from around 8,000 agents to around 16,000.

Since then it seems to have been pretty steady.  As apprehensions increase the Mexicans and cartel guys become a bit more creative.  It's a constant back and forth.  There is no genuine progress being made toward "shutting down the border" or "stopping illegal immigration" etc.  Unfortunately that is not a political goal of either party.