Two Old – and Commendable – Border Patrol Maneuvers

By David North on October 31, 2011

Sometimes the Department of Homeland Security does the right thing, and when that happens it is only fair to report it. Both of today's stories relate to the Border Patrol.

All too often when BP agents apprehend illegal entrants at the U.S.-Mexico border they simply process them (get their names and fingerprints) and then bus them back to the nearest port of entry, giving them the opportunity of trying again the next night.

Needless to say, this is not much of a set-back to the EWIs (those Entering Without Inspection).

Without Mexico's permission EWIs are not shipped back to their home villages, the sensible policy response, with one exception. In the heat of the summer, if the EWI agrees, and if he is caught on the Arizona border, he can be flown back into the interior of Mexico; otherwise there is no such trip.

There is an old BP practice, however, that penalizes the EWI without the need for any cooperation with Mexican authorities, that is to ship the illegals away from where they are caught to some distant point on the border, and push them back to Mexico there.

The illegal finds himself, for all practical purposes, in a different country, with no contacts, and with no local knowledge. He has the grim choice of trying to cross the border in an unknown locale, or maybe going back home.

It is not as useful a deterrent as either interior repatriation or jailing in the U.S. but it is better than letting him try the familiar route, perhaps with the familiar coyote, the next night. And it is relatively inexpensive.

I first learned of this maneuver 20 years or so ago when I was doing immigration research on the border, and was reminded of it in a news report from the Arizona Republic recently that indicated that this process is still used, by at least one segment of the Border Patrol, the Tucson Sector.

In the ten months between October 2010 and August 1, 2011 the sector shipped 43,806 aliens either west to California crossing points (where walls are common) or east to locations in Texas (that involve crossing a river). That's useful.

What was particularly interesting about the report was that Secretary Napolitano praised and defended the operation, one that has some human rights organizations upset. Good for her, in this case.

However, when she made the statement, the secretary, and her publicists, were in the middle of a really hackneyed public relations ploy: she mounted one of the BP's stable of horses for a short tour of the border on horseback.

My sense, being both a one-time horse-owner, and several time public relations guy, is that even if there is only a very limited utility of horses as a law enforcement resource, the Border Patrol will keep them forever as a PR prop. (They may well be actually helpful in some parts of the border and many people not used to them fear them in a way that is simultaneously non-rational and useful to the rider.)

So the use of horses, and lateral repatriation, are both alive and well on the southern border.

Meanwhile, a helpful retired Border Patrol agent (who will be nameless) described, in an e-mail, another time-honored BP tradition that may not be known to the secretary, and may not please her.

I had asked the former agent what was done with the documents found on a captured EWI. He said that if the documents looked genuine, they were returned to the alien, and if they looked forged they would be seized.

Then he went on to say – and I had heard this story many times before – that sometimes they would take a legitimate document from the alien, leave the room, and then mark the document with a note that the person had been caught as an EWI in a certain sector on a certain date, and then, a few minutes later, return the document to the alien.

The notation would be made with Murine (the eye drops) and when it dried it would be invisible to the alien. But if held up to an ultraviolet light by another agent, at some point in the future, the EWI's record could be read by the agent. All this was in the days before the computerized records now kept of EWIs.

The continued use of lateral repatriations and the one-time employment of invisible ink remind us that rank-and-file government officials, even with limited operational freedom and limited resources, can be creative, sometimes in unexpected ways.