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Homeland Security

Washington File

24 June 2003

Agent Says Tighter Border Controls Reduce Human Smuggling, Save Lives

(June 24 testimony of Chief Patrol Agent Garza before House Panel)
Tighter border controls have reduced the flow of illegal immigrants
into the United States and saved lives, says Chief Patrol Agent Jose
E. Garza.
Garza oversees activities of the McAllen, Texas, Border Patrol Sector,
Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, which patrols 284 linear
miles of border between the United States and Mexico and 232 miles of
coastline along the Gulf of Mexico.
Testifying June 24 before a House Judiciary subcommittee, Garza said
tougher border controls initiated in 1997 have been successful.
Apprehensions of illegal entrants have dropped from nearly 245,000 in
1997 to 89,928 in 2002.
Increased efforts to patrol the nation's border have served as a
safety tool as well, Garza said.
"Over the past several years, unscrupulous alien smugglers have moved
migrants into more remote areas with hazardous terrain and extreme
conditions," he noted. With the change in smuggling tactics, U.S.
Border Patrol strategy has adjusted to meet the challenges, Garza told
legislators. "The Sector's Special Response Team and Border Patrol's
Search, Trauma and Rescue Teams have received training in search and
rescue, and Border Patrol Emergency Medical Technicians have been
placed at each station," he pointed out. "At the present time, there
are 44 trained EMTs in the Sector."
The Border Patrol's boat patrol, Garza added, has rescued "hundreds of
potential drowning victims, many of [whom] were abandoned by
Following is the text of Garza's testimony, as prepared for delivery:
(begin text)
Statement of JOSE E. GARZA
Chief Patrol Agent, McAllen Sector Border Patrol
Bureau of Customs and Border Protection
Before the
Regarding "The Deadly Consequences of Illegal Alien Smuggling"
June 24, 2003
Chairman Hostettler, Ranking Member Jackson Lee, and distinguished
Subcommittee Members, it is my honor to have the opportunity to appear
before you today to discuss efforts to prevent and deter the illegal
entry and smuggling of undocumented aliens into the United States,
through operations and law enforcement initiatives of the United
States Border Patrol, now a component of the newly created Bureau of
Customs and Border Protection.
My name is Jose E. Garza, and I am the Chief Patrol Agent of the
McAllen, Texas Border Patrol Sector, Bureau of Customs and Border
Protection. I would like to begin by giving you a brief overview of
the McAllen Border Patrol Sector.
The McAllen Sector is one of twenty-one Border Patrol sectors
nationwide and serves an integral part in securing our nation's
borders. We are responsible for patrolling 284 linear miles of
international border between the United States and Mexico, and 232
miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, encompassing 19 South
Texas counties which cover 17,000 square miles. We have 1,482
uniformed officers assigned to McAllen Sector, who perform various
types of enforcement duties. The agents are deployed at nine stations,
two of which are specifically assigned traffic checkpoints in
Falfurrias and Kingsville, Texas, and one that is coastal station in
Corpus Christi, Texas.
In late summer, 1997, illegal migration in McAllen Sector was at an
all-time high. 2The indicators that the situation was critical were
evident to all who lived and worked in the border community. The
associated criminal activity that accompanies an uncontrolled border
was of great concern: Border violence, and drug and alien smuggling
were taking their toll on urban and rural border residents. Farmers,
ranchers and the local community were complaining of increased numbers
of illegal aliens transiting their lands. Border communities, such as
Brownsville, Texas, were increasingly alarmed, and faced with an
atmosphere of swelling violence, which was degrading their quality of
life. Local police were receiving numerous calls relating to illegal
entrants committing petty and serious offenses in Brownsville on a
daily basis. Fiscal year 1997 was a peak year for McAllen Sector in
apprehensions, as we arrested nearly 245,000 illegal aliens.
In August of 1997, McAllen Sector initiated Operation Rio Grande as a
part of the Border Patrol's national strategy to control our nation's
borders. McAllen Sector was prioritized in Phase II of the national
strategy, after Phase I operations involving El Paso's Operation Hold
the Line, San Diego's Operation Gatekeeper, were shown to have a
significant effect on illegal migration along the El Paso and San
Diego corridors. In keeping with our national strategy, the concept of
the operation was to forward deploy our agent staffing and tactical
infrastructure resources along the immediate border area, the Rio
Grande River, to prevent and deter the illegal entry and smuggling of
aliens into the United States at the border itself.
Our operational manpower was increased from 701 agents to the present
levels, as the national strategy has progressed. Tactical
infrastructure such as portable and permanent lighting structures,
sky-watch observation platforms, infrared cameras, boats,
fingerprinting technology to measure recidivism and detect wanted
criminals, night vision equipment, newer aircraft and other equipment
was purchased and assigned to the sector. In essence, the new mindset
and way of doing business was fostered in line with the national
strategy and McAllen went from an apprehension-based strategy to a
strategy that promoted control through prevention and deterrence.
Our efforts have been very successful, with decreases in apprehensions
and illegal entries since Operation Rio Grande began. I am proud to
say that in Fiscal year 2002 we apprehended 89,928 illegal entrants in
the McAllen Sector. Although this is still a tremendous workload,
there are now significantly fewer arrests, due to the focused strategy
of Operation Rio Grande and the efforts put forth by our dedicated men
and women. Through it all, McAllen Sector has maintained and
encouraged a positive relationship with area ranchers, farmers and the
local community. The crime rate along the southern corridor of the
McAllen Sector paralleled the decline in apprehensions. The crime rate
in places like Brownsville, Texas has decreased, and the safety for
our officers and the local population has dramatically improved. The
overall quality of life was better due to enhanced enforcement by our
Remotely monitored sensing devices have been placed along smuggling
routes leading away from the Rio Grande to monitor the movement of
persons trying to illegally enter the United States. Mobile
observation platforms called "Sky-Watch" towers, platforms that extend
twenty feet into the air and are used to watch large portions of the
river, have been placed at strategic locations along the river. Remote
Video Surveillance Systems have also been placed at twenty-nine
strategic locations along the river. These systems have both day and
night cameras and are monitored twenty-four hours a day, seven days a
week for any illegal activity. A Boat Patrol was established in
February of 1998 to detect and deter illegal activity, as well as to
gather intelligence along the river. Twenty-six specially trained K-9
teams have been permanently stationed at our two permanent traffic
Building on longstanding public safety and humanitarian measures
practiced by the U.S. Border Patrol, we have implemented initiatives
to increase border safety within the McAllen Sector and have taken
steps to enhance our levels of preparedness. Over the past several
years, unscrupulous alien smugglers have moved migrants into more
remote areas with hazardous terrain and extreme conditions. As
smuggling tactics and patterns have shifted, our strategy has been
flexible enough to meet the challenges head on. The Sector's Special
Response Team (SRT) and Border Patrol's Search, Trauma and Rescue
Teams (BORSTAR) have received training in search and rescue, and
Border Patrol Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) have been placed in
each Station. At the present time, there are 44 trained EMTs in the
The Boat Patrol was established by the McAllen Sector as a border
safety tool and as a deterrent to prevent illegal aliens from entering
into the United States. The Boat Patrol has deterred the entry of
thousands of illegal aliens within our sector. Furthermore, the
patrols have served as a Border Safety tool by rescuing hundreds of
potential drowning victims, many of which were abandoned by smugglers.
The Boat Patrol has become an integral part of our every day
operations. We have enhanced our Air Operations to increase aerial
vigilance in remote areas in our efforts to prevent alien deaths
directly attributable to the high heat and limited water sources in
remote South Texas.
The McAllen Sector Public Awareness Program is a proactive network of
contacts that aggressively facilitates the dissemination of
information. Working with local Television, Radio and Newspaper
agencies, we have developed and delivered public service announcements
and advertisement campaigns to increase public safety awareness and to
educate the public regarding our mission, which has benefited our law
enforcement efforts throughout the region.
The McAllen Sector maintains three 24-hour checkpoint operations in
the sector, which are strategically located to prevent and disrupt
alien and narcotic smuggling. Border Patrol Checkpoints are an
integral part of Border Protection measures. Their strategic placement
and operation provides increased control and deterrence at the border.
The presence of a Checkpoint forces smugglers and illegal entrants to
change their entry and travel patterns to border cities and away from
the border. Sustained border enforcement presence, supported by
Checkpoints that screen traffic traveling away from the border, adds
an additional level of security nationally. It is of utmost importance
to note that operations conducted at these checkpoints are not based
upon authority similar to border inspections at ports of entry, with
regard to searches and seizures, but are exercised based upon
authority granted from Supreme Court decisions. Current case law also
supports operating checkpoints in the same location to assure maximum
law enforcement benefit while protecting 4th amendment guarantees.
Even though Border Patrol Agents have the authority under Section 287
(a) (3) of the INA to "board and search" any vessel, railway car,
aircraft, conveyance or vehicle within a reasonable distance from any
external boundary or border for aliens, agents must still have
probable cause in order to conduct a search for contraband as outlined
in Almeida-Sanchez v. U.S., 413 U.S. 266 (1973).
In U.S. v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873 (1975), the court held that
"officers on a roving patrol may stop vehicles only if they are aware
of specific articulate facts, together with rational inferences from
those facts, that warrant reasonable suspicion that the vehicle
contains aliens who may be illegally in the country."
In both Almeida-Sanchez v. U.S. and U.S. v. Brignoni-Ponce, the court
held that "no act of Congress can authorize a violation of the
constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures."
Border Patrol agents are required to skillfully and prudently exercise
the authority granted to them, balancing the standards between
reasonable proof and probable cause during detainment and questioning
of undocumented aliens, vehicle stops, and searches and seizures.
The challenges we face with existing infrastructure at our checkpoints
will continue to be addressed in an effort to update, expand and
modernize, and we will continue to work diligently under the
limitations that now exist. With an ever-increasing volume of traffic,
agents in the McAllen Sector have mere seconds to conduct immigration
checks, and to decide if probable cause exits to warrant additional
The McAllen Border Patrol Sector continues to help lead the way in an
effort to increase border security, and curb illegal alien and drug
smuggling along the southwest border. In fiscal year 2002, McAllen
Sector apprehended 89,927 undocumented aliens. Of those apprehensions,
11,339 were of persons whose nationality was other than Mexican (OTM).
The sector also made arrests in 1,382 alien smuggling cases, involving
1,610 alien smugglers and 7,558 smuggled aliens. During fiscal year
2003 (through May), the Sector has apprehended a total of 50,744
undocumented aliens, of which 8,910 were OTMs. During this time, the
sector has also made arrests in 1,233 alien smuggling cases, involving
1,462 alien smugglers and 5,468 smuggled aliens.
McAllen Sector is also among the leaders on the Southwest border in
narcotics cases. In Fiscal Year 2002, the sector made 1,692 narcotic
seizures, including 1,492 seizures of marijuana totaling 334,630
pounds, 10 seizures of heroin totaling 125 pounds, and 171 seizures of
cocaine totaling 6,902 pounds. During Fiscal Year 2003 (through May),
the sector has recorded a total of 1,151 cases, including 1,008
seizures of marijuana totaling 210,644 pounds, 8 seizures of heroin
totaling 86 pounds, and 89 seizures of cocaine totaling 4,200 pounds.
Not only does the Border Patrol provide a significant law enforcement
presence in the region, we are also recognized as a major source of
information and intelligence. Our Sector Intelligence Unit is
recognized as a major source of information regarding Special Interest
Aliens in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Recognizing that
border security cannot be a singular effort, but a collaborative,
multi-agency effort; we coordinate our efforts, disseminate
information, and share intelligence with other federal, state and
local law enforcement agencies, strengthening the cord of better
enforcement, better intelligence and better security.
Nationally, the Border Patrol is tasked with a very complex,
sensitive, and difficult job, which historically has presented immense
challenges, and for which we have been given 100% responsibility.
Since March 1, 2003, the U.S. Border Patrol has been a part of the
newly established Bureau of Customs and Border Protection within the
Department of Homeland Security. The Border Patrol is proud to be the
"front line" of defense for this very important mission. The challenge
is huge, but one which we face every day with resolve and dedication.
Together with our new partners, we are standing "shoulder to shoulder"
to present "one face" at the border.
I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to present
this testimony today, and I would be pleased to respond to any
questions that the Committee may have at this time.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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