Attacks on Border Patrol agents at all-time high
The amount of attacks on Border Patrol agents has increased dramatically and the majority are happening in the Rio Grande Valley.
"So, here in the Valley we don't have a lot of places where they can drive across,” said Rio Grande Valley Sector Division Chief John Morris. “So, they are really coming on rafts or swimming or occasionally wading depending on the water flow."
Ditched rafts that either immigrants or drug smugglers use to cross the Rio Grande are often seen while agents are patrolling along the two countries’ natural barrier. Other signs agents use to detect when an individual has crossed illegally are foot prints, disturbance of the land, trash, or left-behind wet clothing.
In March 2017, the amount of apprehensions along the southwest borders shows a steep decline.
Fiscal year 2017 had more than 415,000 apprehensions, compared to fiscal year 2016, where there were nearly 550,000 apprehensions.
So far in FY 2018, there have already been nearly 180 attacks on Border Patrol agents nationwide.
“So, we had a really large decrease in numbers after the inauguration,” said Morris. “I think as a lot of people are trying to figure out what was really going to happen in reality.”
Ten-year veteran Michelle George is one of the few female Riverine Unit Border Patrol agents and she says you can never prepare yourself for the scenarios agents sometimes encounter while patrolling.
"There is about five-- or from the looks of it about five or six guys, standing up there and they may or may not be friendly, we don't know,” said George as she looked up at the one of the international bridges that overlooks the Rio Grande. “But, either way when we cross the bridge, we are going to do a zig zag maneuver, or some kind of maneuver to get us a little bit away from them, in case they drop something. There’s been, at times, trash will be thrown, bricks, rocks-- we never know."
"Just recently we had an incident where the smuggler attempted to run over one of our agents as he was leaving the river banks with a load of illegal aliens,” said Morris. “We recently had the agents that got shot in the boat down near Brownsville. The guys on the boats get rocked on a regular basis, In FY 2016 across the nation there were 450 assaults against Border Patrol agents, in FY 2017 there were 786 assaults against Border Patrol agents. So, that's a 73 percent increase just in one year."
“Threat! Threat!,” shouted Border Patrol Marine Instructor David Ramirez during a riverine unit training course. A mock drill in case of attack is one of the many drills agents have to practice before defending the nation’s border, since they are one of the most exposed.
"You either have to very, really, quickly decide, “Can I get out of this situation first or do I have to be able to defend myself,’" said Morris.
The Riverine Unit agents train in a control environment, like South Padre Island, that way they can fully concentrate on every skill set during training without any chance of being attacked.
"You got to be clear-minded every time you come in. A bad decision could cost a life-- one of your crew, you could wreck the boat, or injure an alien out in the field," said Border Patrol agent Mathew Zafra who is training to become a vessel commander.
Another drill agents practice is ‘man over board’, in case they come across a subject struggling in the water or one of their one falls over.
"That person might be in distress, however; you could be set up for an ambush,” said Border Patrol Marine Evaluator Ricardo Hinojosa. “See, you got to make sure that when you get that person out of the water, the first thing you got to do is, yes, you got to handcuff them and then do your thing, whether it be CPR, first aid, whatever, and search them."
Morris says that as that the increase in attacks in just one year likely goes up with those crossing illegally, feeling a sense of desperation since new tactics, strategies, and technology make entry into the United States harder.
“The bad guys, if you will, the smugglers come up with a tactic and then we adjust, and then when we adjust, they adjust,” said Morris. “But, it’s just who can stay ahead of who in the race to have the edge."