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Patrol records show Mexican military strays across border
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Armed Mexican government personnel made unauthorized incursions into the United States five times in the first quarter of the current fiscal year, according to confidential Department of Homeland Security records.
The crossings involved police officers or soldiers in military vehicles and were among 231 such incidents recorded by the Border Patrol over 10 years.
Details of the incidents emerged as authorities on both sides of the border scrambled to investigate a dangerous confrontation Monday in Texas.
Heavily armed personnel in a military-style Humvee helped drug smugglers fleeing police to escape back into Mexico, according to authorities. An internal Border Patrol summary of the incident said the Humvee was equipped with a .50-caliber machine gun.
"It's clear you're dealing with a large number of incursions by bona-fide Mexican military units, based on the tactics and the equipment being used," said T.J. Bonner, president of the agents' union.
Reports of incursions into the United States by gun-toting men dressed in what appear to be military or police uniforms have become a powerful rallying point for advocates of illegal-immigration crackdowns and tighter border security.
The incursions also have intensified a debate over the merits of fencing the 2,000-mile Mexican border, now a patchwork of metal barriers, rusted and broken barbed wire and large spans of rugged terrain. In Texas, the Rio Grande separates the two nations.
Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar said incursions by Mexican government personnel are nothing new, and that U.S. agents on occasion cross accidentally into Mexico. He noted that incursion incidents have declined by more than 50 percent since 2002. Still, with assault rates against agents at record highs, any incursion is taken "very seriously."
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Wednesday that this week's incident in Texas was "about as serious as it gets" and noted that dozens of incursions have occurred in his state.
The encounters undermine efforts to stop the flow of drugs across the U.S. border and suggest possible cooperation between Mexican authorities and traffickers, he said.
Mexican officials on Wednesday denied their police and military have been involved in illicit crossings, but said they are investigating Monday's incident.
Several incidents in the reports appeared to involve Mexican officials getting lost or engaged in pursuits of suspects. For example, five Tijuana police officers pursued two men across the border in 2004. Officers fired at the suspects while on U.S. soil, according to a Border Patrol report. The police returned to Mexico after arresting the men.
Other encounters were more suspicious and add to concerns that corruption in Mexico is eroding efforts to control the border.
Rafael Laveaga, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, said there have been accidental entries across the border by U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement personnel. As a result, Mexican military units are prohibited from coming within one mile of the border unless they receive authorization to pursue criminals, he said.
Many U.S. law-enforcement authorities paint a different picture.
"Every time traffickers come across, the military is close by," said Sheriff Arvin West of Hudspeth County, Texas, where Monday's standoff occurred. He said military crossings in his county are so common that "people don't even report it anymore."
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