Busts along border bring agents back from the south
By Meg Olson
ebb and flow of border patrol agents from San Diego to Blaine
continues with another temporary detail of the agents, this
time to help patrol between the ports of entry rather than
manning booths at the border crossings.
Twenty agents reported for duty with the Blaine sector border patrol last week, less than a month after the 21 agents sent from San Diego to help man booths and shorten lines at the border after September 11 returned south. Its different guys, a different mission, said Blaine sector deputy chief patrol agent John Bates.
Bates said that, like the temporary detail to the ports of entry, the extra agents are assigned for 30 days and a new detail will be sent for 30 more. After that national Immigration and Naturalization Service bosses will decide if they should stay longer. Theyll assess the need compared to whats going on in the nation, Bates said. We will ask to have it extended, but that doesnt mean itll happen.
The new detail is part of 100 agents sent to the northern border temporarily while the INS recruits and trains more patrol agents. Legislation following September 11 will land 245 new border patrol agents on the northern border, but when they get here is up in the air. This is a stop-gap measure, Bates said. The border patrol is in an aggressive hiring process right now, but it takes time. In addition, new agents are first sent to the southern border after training. We like to have experienced agents come up here, Bates said.
While the newly detailed agents will be doing different work than the border patrol agents who worked in the ports of entry until mid-December, theyre here for the same reason: to cut down on overtime while keeping security high. It helps us get better coverage and quicker response time, Bates said. We had been working our agents 12 hours a day, five days a week since September 11. This gives us the opportunity to make it a voluntary rather than a mandatory solution.
The border patrol could use a hand theyve been busy these days. November broke records for marijuana seizures, with individual busts of 342 and 311 pounds only days apart and a 175-pound seizure later in the month. Smaller seizures continue to be an almost weekly occurrence. Last week it was 43 pounds in the 1400 block of B Street. Even with help from Blaine police, agents got the drugs, but not the smuggler, who escaped after dropping his load. A day later, two smugglers were caught in the same location with 42 pounds.
Bates acknowledged that the camera system due to go on line along the border and the additional manpower could push smuggling activities to the ports, where INS inspectors are already working 12-hour days since losing the extra border patrol agents in December. Will we see more activity at the ports, or on the water, or in the air? he said. Until we can all get staffing up to where were comfortable there will always be that issue. We know the smugglers arent going to stop.
The ports of entry are already breaking smuggling records. On January 15, the smell of marijuana came wafting out of the back of a beer truck as U.S. Customs inspectors opened the back for inspection. They found 1,400 pounds of high-potency marijuana, the largest seizure ever on the northern border, according to Pacific highway port director Peg Fearon. Since October 2001, U.S. Customs inspectors at the port of Blaine have seized over two tons of B.C. bud marijuana hidden in commercial trucks, she said. The wholesale value for two tons is approximately $12 million.
Bates said the long-term solution will be more resources for all border enforcement agencies and coordinated enforcement activites with Canada.
The way I look at it, the border is border agencies, then technology, then public involvement, then working with the RCMP, Bates said. If we have all that working together we have a really good handle on the border..