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CBP Border Patrol, Yuma

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) border patrol agents serving the Yuma Sector in Arizona are constantly busy. This sector on the north side of the Mexican-U.S. border covers numerous badlands and crossing points. It is a border area favored by smugglers of drugs, human beings, and stolen property, and it is often in both national and international media spotlights. In the nine months between October 2005 and July 2006, border patrol agents seized more marijuana than the entire year before—more than 42,000 pounds. Patrolling the often-porous border areas is grueling police work.

CBP border patrol agents have more law enforcement authority than any other federal law enforcement agency. Potential trainees are required to have three years of verifiable work experience and are hired at the GS-5 level. Trainees with bachelor degrees (or higher) can be hired at the GS-7 level. Trainees are also subject to a two-year probationary period. A high percentage of Border Patrol trainees have prior law enforcement or military experience, which is helpful through the academy and beyond.

A Border Patrol agent’s duty includes the apprehension of terrorists, detection of terrorist activity and weapons of mass destruction and the enforcement of immigration laws. They are also empowered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to apprehend for drug law violations, seize and arrest aliens in possession of firearms, and enforce all customs laws.

In the course of its work, CBP border patrol investigations turn large amounts of illegal narcotics over to the DEA. Lesser amounts and arrests are turned over to local law enforcement agencies. Depending upon jurisdictions, this is usually a sheriff’s department.

The training at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, NM includes passing several tests in Spanish, criminal and immigration law, and others that use researched, realistic scenario training in dealing with check points, freight trains, buses and other vehicles.

Additionally, there is also a battery of timed physical tests that must be accomplished in order to successfully complete the Border Patrol Academy. Trainees are required to pass two written law examinations and two oral Spanish boards while completing their probationary period. These examinations are administered in two different months during the first year of employment. Trainees are also subject to conduct and efficiency evaluations by senior patrol agents.

Yuma Sector

The total length of the border separating the U.S. and Mexico is about 1,900 miles. CBP border patrol agents are divided into 20 Border Patrol sectors, with a total of 143 Border Patrol stations nationwide, including the border with Canada. The Yuma Sector agents patrol 118 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border that lie between the Yuma-Pima County line in Arizona and the Imperial Sand Dunes in California.

This sector includes the counties of Yuma, La Paz, and Mojave in Arizona, the easternmost areas of Imperial, Riverside, and Los Angeles counties in California, and the four southernmost counties in Nevada. The large U.S. military population in this patrol area, such as within the city of Yuma, is a plus factor because this population gives the CBP border patrol agents and local law enforcement respect, support, and cooperation.

Currently, according to Yuma Sector Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Lloyd Easterling, almost 900 border patrol agents patrol the Yuma Sector. This is almost double the number of agents in past years. Nationwide, CBP border patrol has grown to 17,000 agents, 6,000 more than just two years ago.

Predators’ activities are alarming both CBP border patrol agents and local law enforcement. Adults with children are especially at risk. For example, an illegal family will often cross into their desert odyssey with just one gallon of water—a formula for a disaster. Yuma sector CPB border patrol agents try to educate such families, explaining that the smugglers are manipulators who are only motivated by money and will, in fact, abandon them.

As a result of its concern, local law enforcement has enhanced its presence along the border, and CBP border agents have improved their relationship with law enforcement south of the border. The idea is to create a squeezing vise to stop such criminal activities. In 2005, Yuma Sector CBP border patrol detained almost 1.4 million people; 10% of these had histories of violence or outstanding arrest warrants.

Working with Other Agencies

Yuma Sector border patrol agents also work with the FBI and the Mexican CIA-like counterpart to prevent terrorism. They also work with the DEA and have an agent assigned to a drug task force. In addition, CBP border patrol has an open door, working relationship with the local police and sheriff’s agencies to help them identify people as well as share data and other knowledge. Border agents assist local police on disturbance calls and meth searches, etc. Local police, in turn, assist CBP border patrol agents regularly when there are vehicle pursuits or bailouts, or anytime others are required at a scene.

Illegal immigration is against the state laws of Arizona, but local law enforcement customarily hands detainees over to CBP border patrol. Yuma Sector agents also work in conjunction with two tribal police agencies—Cocopah in Arizona and Quechan in California—and, when asked, will aid them on calls such as domestic disturbances.

For the local police, dealing with illegal immigration factors—such as a suspect’s undocumented status—is a problem; Mexican identification cards are basically worthless.

Local police may also have difficulty correctly identifying witnesses, suspects, and other people they are dealing with, so it is common for the local police—who often do not speak Spanish—to call for assistance from the CBP border patrol in these regards.

CBP border patrol has a program called Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS,) a 10-point fingerprint ID system consisting of more than 47 million records.

It can reach into U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Automated Biometric Identification (IDENT) system and the FBI’s IAFIS system to accurately identify those apprehended. Both systems are based upon the physical characteristics in photographs and by fingerprints. IDENT scans and records only a person’s two index fingerprints while the IAFIS contain all 10 fingers. These are maintained as high-quality images.

When questioned, illegal immigrants commonly do not give their real names. Now the agents can assist local police by searching on a person’s prints, the names the person uses, or his criminal history. Wanted person warrants can be brought up within minutes rather than days as in the past. People 14 years old and older who have been detained are entered into CBP border patrol’s data system.

During a three-month period in 2005, more than 23,000 people were identified and arrested by CBP border patrol agents using this technology: 84 homicide suspects, 37 kidnapping suspects, 151 sexual assault suspects, and 1,238 other assault suspects. In addition, 2,630 people wanted for dangerous narcotics charges and other aliens seeking entry into the U.S. were identified. Smuggling and other information the border patrol gains through technology is sent to local law enforcement, as well as law enforcement counterparts south of the border.

Another concern involves communicable diseases. While American citizens take for granted that certain diseases are controlled here, they tend to forget that these diseases are still issues in other countries. Among them are tuberculosis—the formation of tubercles in body tissues, especially the lungs—and scabies, an itching, contagious skin disease caused by mites.

As a result, if CBP border patrol agents encounter a detained person with an odd cough, they will wear special gloves and masks. In addition, their patrol vehicles are outfitted with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units. The vehicles also have prisoner seatbelts, water, and communication access to the driver.

Day Watch in Yuma

With a temperature of 118 degrees, standing outside feels as hot and dry as a charcoal-making oven. At the commercial border port of entry at San Luis, there is a pylon-mounted X-ray as well as a truck-mounted, mobile X-ray arm. Pylon comes from an ancient Egyptian word meaning “gate,” and this is what commercial vehicles coming into the country at this port of entry are required to pass through.

A high, solid fence separates the U.S. and Mexico. Along this fence are vantage point shelters in the form of protective enclosures. One of these is located 4 miles to the east of the San Luis port of entry. A CBP border patrol vehicle is there with its one-agent crew sitting inside. Using binoculars, the agent can see more than a mile down the fence in either direction. A vantage point shelter is actually just a metal roof under which the Border Patrol vehicle can park. The border’s fence and the roof protect the vehicle from the sun and from rocks thrown over the fence from the Mexican side of the border. The shelter’s roof is littered with rocks.

Near the shelter is a drag that an agent can hook up to a vehicle to sweep or grade the sand clean of old trespassers’ footprints. This allows fresh footprints to be noted, monitored, or tracked. When agents discover that the smugglers have cut holes in the solid steel fence, they temporarily fill them in with rocks and call for a welding truck to make repairs.

A CBP border patrol intelligence unit operates under cover. Agents in the Yuma sector use a variety of vehicles including all-terrain quads. And although some CBP border patrol sectors operate horse-mounted patrols, this is not the case in the Yuma Sector.

On this day in the California part of the Yuma Sector, a bloated body is found. The person, apparently Latino, is lying on the sandy bank of the All-American Canal, a man-made waterway supplying most of the water resources for this area; the canal is 85 miles long. West of the body is an inner tube. Some people entering this country illegally use them to cross waterways. The death investigation will be handled by the sheriff’s office.

 In this area, entry points are not close to each other. There is a graded, one-lane vehicle trail along the north side of the canal on a sandy embankment. Driving near the canal side of the trail is a concern because driving too far over on a too-soft shoulder could mean a tumble into the canal. To attempt to turn around or pass any other vehicles also puts a two-wheel-drive vehicle at risk of becoming stuck. Crossing the trail are the footprints of apparent illegal aliens who have waded across the canal. Weather conditions will eventually erode the footprints, and new ones will take their place. Statistics place the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. anywhere from 12 million to 25 million.

CBP border patrol has the authority to make warrentless immigration searches / arrests as well as to conduct investigations. Its agents can stop and arrest on the spot with a reasonable suspicion. They may stop any vehicle within 25 miles of the border if an agent has a reason to believe that there is a violation of immigration law.

Among the indications of immigration violations are: a vehicle’s windows have been spray painted black from within, a vehicle is riding low, or there are visible rear helper springs. Illegal aliens other than Mexican will be processed for removal and are afforded the right to an interview with a consular official from their native country. They are not returned to Mexico.

On this same day near the border, CBP border patrol, agents interview two suspected illegals dwelling in a culvert. The men have no identification, so their status has to be sorted out. Agents run names and dates of birth through the computer database and roll fingerprints. If the two men are OK, they will be allowed to go. If they are not cleared but they do not have any priors or criminal histories, they will be voluntarily returned to their side of the border at a point of entry gate. The Mexican officials will further investigate those aliens returning to Mexico. Detainees with priors and criminal records, etc., are taken into custody.

About half of the people detained have lived in the U.S., at least for a little while. A number have been arrested for offenses such as driving while intoxicated (not a deportable offense). Offenses such as shoplifting, on the other hand, are considered crimes involving moral turpitude; people with such histories are processed for removal from the United States.

While patrolling, a CBP border patrol agent makes a vehicle stop. Three suspected illegal aliens inside are taken into custody. As a matter of policy, a K9 team will respond before the vehicle is towed. This team will further search the vehicle for drugs, additional aliens, and contraband within hiding spaces or compartments. The tow inventory is thorough, and the Kelly Blue Book value is indicated. In this case, the car is not owned by the smuggler / driver but by a relative. The decision as to whether the car will be returned to that relative, auctioned, or destroyed is a technicality to be further addressed. Initially, though, all vehicles used for illicit activity are subject to seizure.

Commonly, when a suspected smuggler does not yield to a law enforcement vehicle, it means that he is carrying a load. There is no standardized, nationwide CBP border patrol pursuit policy. Fleeing vehicles will often smash vehicle barriers and run through barbwire fences. Recovered stolen vehicles are turned over to local law enforcement, and all-terrain vehicles used to smuggle drugs are turned over to the DEA.

Along the braid-like Colorado River border with its shallow stretches, illegal aliens and smugglers are often able to cross at ankle or knee depths or sometimes drive across. The river is the border between California and Arizona; then it becomes the border between Mexico and Arizona before running into Mexico at Arizona’s southwestern corner. Its water is a valuable commodity, and there are treaties to regulate its use.

The Colorado’s irrigation canals can also be crossed at gated choke points. Smugglers cut the locks off these to cross the canals. CBP border monitors these gates, and in the time it takes the smugglers to make their cut, agents respond with a pre-formed game plan. When the smugglers cut through the farmland, they damage crops, especially those that have been newly planted.

Elsewhere that same day at a checkpoint on eastbound I-8, CBP border patrol agents and a K9 team inspect vehicles for hidden drugs and people.

Through Operation Jump Start, up to 6,000 National Guard troops participate on numerous assignments. The Guard is now taking part in entry identification teams; repairing vehicles; operating cameras; monitoring remote surveillance systems, including ground-based search radar; providing lighting and sensors to detect illegal entry; and maintaining and constructing the tactical infrastructure such as roadways and fences. This relieves CBP border patrol agents so they can attend to patrol work. National Guard troops do not take a direct part in making apprehensions and rescues but have been instrumental in assisting agents with these duties.

Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, OH Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a Florida-based writer and author. They can be reached at and

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2008

Rating : 9.2

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