So You Thought The Border Wall Was Just For Controlling Inbound Traffic…

busSearchAs a follow-up to my earlier posts titled Today We’re All Prisoners In The USA and Border Patrol Demands Travel Documents Inside The Country, I’ve reprinted two articles below further highlighting this fundamental shift in Homeland Security enforcement practices.

The shift in question is away from vetting traffic attempting to enter the country and towards seizing and searching traffic already here. While I’ve been pointing this out with regards to the internal suspicionless checkpoints I’m routinely forced to endure while traveling to and from work over forty miles North of the border, it’s clear the policy is expanding into many other aspects of travel as well.

The two articles I’ve included below highlight the fact that Customs and Border Protection is now routinely stopping, seizing and searching Southbound border traffic instead of concentrating its efforts on traffic attempting to enter the country. In other words, the federal government is now routinely attempting to stop illegal aliens from voluntarily leaving the country while also looking for guns, money and drugs.

What’s even more disturbing is that federal money is increasingly being used to train local law enforcement to conduct these suspicionless Southbound searches and seizures. The initiative further undermines local autonomy and control by commandeering local law enforcement resources for federal purposes.

The first article appearing below was written a few weeks ago while the second was written over a year ago. The acceleration in the implementation of this new enforcement policy is evident when comparing the two articles.

New searches may boost waits to get into Mexico

By Brady McCombs
Arizona Daily Star

NOGALES, Ariz. — Amped up efforts to stop guns and cash from entering Mexico and fueling drug cartels could have an unintended effect on Americans: longer waits in southbound lanes at the border.

Most ports don’t have much room for such inspections, putting U.S. and Mexican customs officials in a bind. If they keep traffic moving, it will be tough to make the new inspections effective. If they conduct checks thorough enough to find guns and illegal cash, it might slow traffic.

U.S. and Mexican officials insist their operations won’t slow motorists. U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it won’t conduct around-the-clock checks or check every last person, and Mexican customs says it will take only eight seconds to check each vehicle that comes through. But, at ports with just one or two southbound lanes, those plans may still cause delays.

“We’re very concerned,” said Maria Luisa O’Connell, president of the Phoenix-based Border Trade Alliance. “The challenge is the lack of infrastructure and space.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, who have typically devoted nearly all of their time to inspecting traffic coming into the U.S., are now — at the behest of President Obama — diverting significant time to what’s leaving the country. Using traditional questioning, mobile X-ray trucks and currency- and weapons-sniffing dogs, officers are now conducting daily outbound inspections.

The Mexican government has also pledged to increase traditionally lax inspections by subjecting every car to an eight-second inspection starting sometime this year, said Andrés Ruiz Manriquez, administrator for Mexican Customs in Nogales. That would mark a huge increase from the 10 percent of cars they now check. Keeping traffic moving
Armando Goncalvez, U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting port director in Nogales, acknowledges that limited space at ports such as the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in downtown Nogales hinders what they can do. But he says there’s no need for travelers or border residents to worry about lines or traffic congestion.

To keep things moving, the agency uses a strategy called pause and search, which means conducting southbound checks for a few hours at a time rather than all day. That keeps smugglers on their heels, Goncalvez says.

“We find that is more productive because once we’re out there, everyone knows we are out there and they’ll just wait us out,” Goncalvez says. “So we try to be unpredictable.”

Southbound inspections on a recent day show how the tactics can be tailored to each port.

The DeConcini port in central Nogales has eight lanes coming into the U.S. and two going into Mexico. It is surrounded by bustling city on all sides and a busy intersection 200 yards north of the border.

On this day, two customs officers stopped only vehicles that looked suspicious, allowing a slow flow of cars to continue. There was no backup.

The Mariposa port in western Nogales has only two outbound lanes but is surrounded by canyons and open space and is nearly two miles from the closest busy intersection north of the border.

There, officers stopped each car for a second or two and pulled over suspicious-looking cars. They were scanned by a mobile X-ray machine and sniffed by drug-, currency- and weapons-detection dogs in a pullout lane.

The two lanes of traffic heading into Mexico backed up 200-300 yards.

Mexico’s actions are awaited

So far, increased inspections haven’t hurt Nogales, Ariz., said Nogales Police Chief William Ybarra.

That doesn’t mean he’s not worried about busy holiday weekends or — perhaps more importantly — what will happen when Mexican customs begins its increased inspections. Mexican customs has vowed to inspect more cars coming into the country and send equipment such as weight machines and license-plate readers, but that push hasn’t started.

When it does, pharmacy manager José Trejo said it won’t help sales, which have already fallen 70 percent since December. “It will affect us,” Trejo said in Spanish. “Increasing inspections will cause even fewer people to come.”

The southbound checks — coupled with the passport requirement that goes into effect on June 1 and the increased forms of security that have been on the rise since Sept. 11, 2001 — have made day trips for shopping and lunch in Nogales a lot more taxing on visitors, Trejo said.

That drop in visitors is the very reason some Nogales, Sonora, merchants say the inspections won’t cause long lines or hurt tourism.

“It won’t affect us because nobody comes anymore anyway,” Jesús Delgado, manager of a downtown Nogales, Sonora, curio shop, said in Spanish.

Inspections proceed

A pair of Customs and Border Protection officers stand amid traffic in southbound lanes heading into Mexico at the Mariposa Port of Entry, pausing each car to ask a few questions.

About 20 Pima County sheriff’s deputies stand around, observing, as part of their training.

The federal government’s push includes freeing overtime funds for local police and county sheriff’s deputies to help out and conduct the inspections. Nogales police and Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies have already been trained, and Pima County sheriff’s deputies were receiving training last week to conduct random, unannounced southbound inspections at the Sasabe and Lukeville ports, said Lt. Jeff Palmer, who oversees the Pima County sheriff’s Border Crime Unit.

Closer scrutiny

Most cars are waved through, but five — an old Ford pickup with furniture crammed in the bed, a white BMW 3231, a green Ford Expedition, a Chevrolet pickup with a grill and refrigerator in the bed, and a green minivan with five large suitcases tied to the roof — are directed into the pullout lane.

After the occupants get out and stand against a nearby chain-link fence, a Pima County sheriff’s deputy guides his drug dog around each vehicle. The dog scratches at the back of the BMW, announcing an odor. Then, a white government van with no windows — the agency’s backscatter mobile X-ray — slowly drives down the row of cars.

The X-ray also detects something abnormal in the BMW, and officers call over a Customs and Border Protection dog from Miami that is trained to sniff out cash and weapons.
The occupants of the four other vehicles are allowed to leave, and Customs and Border Protection officer José Rivera lets the dog, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois named Athego, thoroughly sniff the interior and exterior. Rivera and Athego have been in Arizona for two months and will be here through the end of July as part of the increased southbound enforcement efforts.

After an extensive search — including opening and inspecting a bag of pinto beans and a can of coffee — officers find nothing. They let the three women in the BMW be on their way, and they ask the officers on the line to pull over five more cars.

Unearthing guns isn’t easy, even at the ports. From the beginning of fiscal year 2009 — Oct. 1 — through March 20, officers had seized 21 weapons, compared with 51 the year before and 25 in 2007. They have more success with money. This fiscal year through March 20, officers have seized $3.85 million during southbound inspections at Arizona ports, already more than the $1.1 million seized in all of fiscal year 2008.

Traffic and tourism

U.S. officials are also inspecting people walking into Mexico. Mexican officials still will stop only people flagged by their stoplight system.

The eight-second inspection on all vehicles will include weighing cars to see if they are unusually heavy and running license plate numbers through a database of suspicious vehicles, both tools long used by U.S. officials but new to Mexico.

They are already doing this at the port in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, across from Brownsville, Texas, but no date has been set for Sonoran ports, said Mexican Customs’ Ruiz.

“It will be implemented in a way that doesn’t create traffic jams,” Ruiz said in Spanish.

Diverting officers from regular inspections to southbound checks is bound to increase the already lengthy wait to get back into the U.S., said the Border Trade Alliance’s O’Connell.

The Alliance has requested that U.S. Department of Homeland Security bring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into the mix and develop a plan that conducts smart — rather than frequent — outbound inspections.

“Stopping every truck is not the most effective way,” O’Connell said.

Goncalvez said they’ll get more officers to staff the additional requirements.

Alicia Martin, co-owner of La Roca restaurant in Nogales, Sonora, said she is confident southbound inspections would be quick and efficient and doesn’t worry about them. Her main concern, she said, is the long lines back into the country, both on foot and on wheels.

Others weren’t so confident. Increased inspections will delay crossings and keep some people away, said pharmacy manager Trejo.

Clyde and Shirley Thomas and their grown daughter, Terri Hamstra, walked across the border into Nogales last week to have lunch at La Roca and do some shopping to celebrate Shirley’s birthday. While Hamstra and Shirley Thomas said the inspections don’t bother them, Clyde disagreed.

“For me, it would be bothersome,” said Clyde Thomas, who lives in Chicago but spends part of the year in Tucson. “If there are a lot of people, there would be a holdup.”
Shirley had a different take:

“If you are honest, you have nothing to worry about. And if you are coming to shop, you shouldn’t be in a hurry.”

Border busts coming and going

By Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 7, 2008
SAN DIEGO — U.S. border authorities no longer apprehend illegal immigrants only as they enter the country. Now they’re catching them on the way out.

At random times near the Tijuana-San Diego border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have been setting up checkpoints, boarding buses destined for Mexico and pulling off people who don’t have proper documentation.

The operation appears to be an expansion of a broader federal crackdown targeting illegal immigrants in jails, airports and workplaces across the country.

The checkpoints, which are not announced in advance, are set up on southbound Interstate 5 about 100 yards north of the border. Vehicles in all lanes must stop.

Vincent Bond, an agency spokesman, said departing immigrants are fair targets.

“If our officers come upon people who are here illegally . . . regardless of whether they’re leaving the country, we detain them, make a record of the fact they were here illegally and return them to Mexico,” Bond said.

Immigrant rights groups and other critics say the crackdown is a sad reflection of growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.

“The policies of the Bush administration are designed to make life so difficult for immigrants in the U.S. illegally that they’re forced to leave. . . . Now they’re arresting people who they are actually driving out of the country. . . . Unbelievable,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a Washington-based immigration reform group.

But some GOP politicians and anti-illegal immigration organizations praise federal authorities for widening their enforcement efforts. A spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) said agents were simply doing their job.

“Whether people are coming or going . . . checkpoints are just another line of defense that targets illegal behavior,” Joe Kasper said.

Customs and Border Protection, which typically provides detailed statistics on apprehensions, would not disclose details of the checkpoint operation. Nor would they say how long it has been underway.

The checkpoints have been randomly deployed since the Sept. 11 attacks, with inspectors typically looking for fugitives, stolen vehicles, weapons, drugs and other contraband.

Illegal immigrants became targets for arrest at the checkpoints only a few months ago, according to immigrant rights groups and human rights organizations in Mexico. It is unclear how frequently the checkpoints have been set up.

But Enrique Morones, president of the Border Angels, a San Diego-based group, said he believes that hundreds of immigrants have been arrested since the crackdown began.

Over a half-hour period April 30, agents appeared to be pulling over every bus and van heading for the border. But any vehicle, including cars, that agents deem suspicious may be stopped and searched.

Inspectors detained five young men from one bus traveling from Los Angeles to Puebla, a city southeast of Mexico City. After the inspectors made their apprehensions, only two passengers remained onboard.

“Pobrecitos (poor people),” said Lily Lujan, who watched the immigrants being arrested as she walked to the border crossing. “They were almost home. If they’re already leaving the country, what’s the problem?”

Federal agents say the checkpoints are a productive way to stop dangerous criminals, drug shipments and money launderers.

The illegal immigrants they apprehend are typically turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol for processing. Unless they have serious criminal records or numerous immigration violations, most are returned to Mexico within a few hours, the agents say.

Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center of Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego, said he was not aware of similar crackdowns in the past. The checkpoints make sense for intercepting contraband, but targeting illegal immigrants voluntarily leaving the country is a “bizarre” way of handling the illegal immigration question, he said.

Other critics call it an enormous waste of resources and say it could be counterproductive and discourage immigrants from going home.

“There are people that want to go back, and even though they haven’t done anything wrong, they might be intimidated from leaving,” said Morones of the Border Angels. “It makes no sense.”

But groups that fight illegal immigration praise federal authorities for showing more willingness to enforce existing immigration laws aggressively. Focusing on the criminality of people entering the country is only part of the job of border agencies, they say.

Rick Oltman, spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization, said he hoped that the crackdown on departing illegal immigrants would be expanded to other exit points across the country.

He said apprehended immigrants who returned home to Mexico would become “ambassadors of enforcement” and might help deter illegal immigration.

“Each one of these people will then report increased enforcement to family and friends when they do get home, and that will give them second thoughts about sneaking back into the U.S.,” he said.