Skip to comments.Riding the 'Pipeline':Agents process clues in effort to thwart illegal immigration
Posted on 11/30/2003 5:17:47 AM PST by SandRat
An illegal immigrant sits with the group he was apprehended with by Border Patrol agents while waiting to be processed and returned to Naco, Sonora, Mexico. (Mark Levy-Herald/Review)
NACO CORRIDOR -- A brain is a human computer, processing information for a person to make decisions.
For Border Patrol agents, determining which vehicles may have illegal immigrants or drugs in them is not simply pull over every vehicle, said U.S. Border Patrol Acting Supervisor Gavin Weidman on Tuesday as he sat in his Border Patrol truck off the side of Highway 90.
"Activity should begin to pick up soon," Weidman said as night began to fall.
Those involved in illegal activities are somewhat predicable. "They have old reliable spots," he said.
But just when an agent thinks he knows what is going to happen, where and when, those involved in illegal activities change "because we have become predictable."
The Naco Station agent was on the road during the 3 to 11 p.m. swing shift. With Operation Pipeline in full swing in Cochise and Santa Cruz counties, there is an increased emphasis to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs crossing the border with Mexico.
The special operation, which began Nov. 17, increased surveillance along the border, the Hereford area, the Sierra Vista, Huachuca City and Whetstone region, and on trails in the Huachuca Mountains, Weidman said.
In Cochise County, the area of emphasis is called the Naco Corridor, an area east of the San Pedro River to the west side of the Huachuca Mountains.
The region, which is a heavily traveled route for those involved in cross border illegal activities, covers nearly 600 square miles. It is the responsibility of agents assigned to the U.S. Border Patrol's Naco Station, who are receiving extra help from temporarily assigned search and rescue agents and individuals who are on special response teams.
"We are putting emphasis of catching loads down in the Huachuca City and Whetstone areas," Weidman said.
Watching for signs
One of the objects is to create choke points where agents in vehicles watch traffic heading mainly north toward Interstate 10. The agent also look at vehicles heading southbound that may be used as carriers, he said.
One vehicle caught Weidman's attention. He drove up to it as it headed north. He then got his vehicle next to it, backing off and going ahead of it.
Weidman called in the temporary tags on the car. He was told the vehicle had already been stopped twice. Since there was only the driver in the car, who was a Phoenix resident, there was nothing to lead to the man's arrest.
"I bet he is a scout," Weidman said.
People who scout for the vehicles carrying illegal immigrants or drugs are usually U.S citizens or legal alien residents and they usually drive alone, he said.
Weidman and other agents were suspicious because the driver was constantly traveling north and south on Highway 90 Tuesday -- a sure sign to them he was scouting.
Later in the night, the vehicle was spotted south of Sierra Vista.
Weidman said that when scout vehicles are stopped, the drivers tell tall tales. Some stories have included that the driver traveled from Phoenix to go to a dentist in Naco or was going into Mexico to buy medicine.
But they seem to drive back and forth for hours on the roads, and there are no indications they have gone across the border and returned.
Agents look for certain clues when deciding if a vehicle should be pulled over in an authorized immigration stop, Weidman said. Without giving away the different aspects, Weidman said how smugglers act in vehicles is different than the ways Americans drive.
There are 10 specific indications an agent looks for. When a certain number occur as one vehicle passes, then an agent can make an immigration stop, he added.
As he sat off the northbound route of Highway 90, his eyes followed vehicle after vehicle.
"You don't have much time to process what you see," Weidman said.
That is why the human computer, which is fine-tuned to each agent's experience, clicks fast in the decision-making process, he said. He likened it to a fast-moving chess game.
All human beings are creatures of habit, which include those involved in illegal activities and law enforcement, he said. When habits change, Borer Patrol agents have to be ready to enter new information into their brains.
In the past, people and drug smugglers would use large trucks and vehicles, Weidman said. Now they are driving family sized sedans carrying smaller loads.
They also change their routes more frequently. The Border Patrol's special operation is important because the agency can cover more territory, he said.
"We are reacting to someone breaking the law. They get to pick where we get them," Weidman said.
Making a 'sandwich'
An agent has to "be a student of human behavior and that only comes with experience," he said.
An agent for five years, Weidman, who traveled the world as a military dependent until settling down in Tucson, said it took him a while to understand the character of people who were either people or drug smugglers and those who were just entering the United States illegally for a better life.
When he was still a trainee and assigned to the Naco Station, he said he learned about what makes people want to enter the country illegally.
Today, he finds one of the incidents a few years ago humorous.
He was working a trail in the Huachuca Mountains when he came upon a man who was carrying a jar of mayonnaise. The man would only tell him he had the mayonnaise to eat and that he was alone.
Suspicious, Weidman took the man down the trail and turned him over to other agents.
He then went back up convinced there was at least another person carrying bread.
The man with the bread was later found. After questioning that man, Weidman said he knew there was at least one other who had meat. He found the man with the meat. Later, he also found a man with cheese and a person carrying water.
All of the illegal immigrants were from the same village in southern Mexico, and eventually the meat man told about the other two, Weidman said.
"I was determined to get the whole sandwich and ended up with a water man too," he said.
Drug load found
"You have to sit here and pay attention. This is hardly an exact science," said Weidman as he sat in his vehicle, listening to radio chatter and keeping his eyes on the road.
For every 100 cars that go by, one may have illegal immigrants or drugs, he said.
As the sun set behind the Whetstone Mountains, a call came in from agents in Ramsey Canyon about finding drugs and illegal immigrants.
Weidman headed for the canyon area with a "see I told you when it becomes dark things would start."
By the time he arrived slightly more than a mile up the canyon, agents were out in the woods looking for illegal immigrants, or undocumented aliens as they are called by the U.S. Border Patrol.
An agency helicopter flew overhead, its bright light pinpointing areas where at least 10 suspected mules, or those who carried the bundles of marijuana, were running away. None of them were apprehended.
A quartet were found, handcuffed together and watched by an agent. The foursome later denied they had anything to do with the drugs. They said they were simply people who had crossed the border illegally in an attempt to find work.
Those comments just didn't ring true for Weidman and the other agents. It is up to the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona to decide if the four would be prosecuted for drug smuggling.
A number of bundles were eventually found weighing a total of 777 pounds. The marijuana had an estimated street value of $621,600.
One agent, who did not want his name used because he may be called upon to testify during criminal proceedings, said a sensor in Ramsey Canyon went off causing him and others to respond.
Even though it was a cold night, the agents were sweating.
The four illegal immigrants who were apprehended helped carry some bundles of marijuana out of the woods as an agent also lugged the illegal substance out.
Agents searched each of the men before they were put into a Border Patrol van for processing at the Naco Station.
Groups of bodies
Soon after the drug seizure incident, calls began to come across the radio in Weidman's truck about vehicles being stopped with illegal immigrants inside.
Highway 90 was the main route Tuesday for small groups of illegal immigrants. In most cases, the drivers of the vehicles fled. Agents caught some.
The radio communications were about bodies, not dead ones, but how many were apprehended -- two, five, six, 10.
One vehicle was stopped near Fort Huachuca's Main Gate by the Sierra Vista Police Department. The driver fled. Twelve illegal immigrants were later taken into custody on the post and turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol.
It was a light-action swing shift, with not too much activity or major problems, Weidman said.
The work can be harrowing at times, especially when agents are close to the border and there are drugs involved.
A couple of years ago, Weidman was on patrol near the Coronado National Memorial when someone on the Mexican side of the border began shooting across the line.
"I don't think they were shooting at us but over us to make us go away," Weidman said. "But when you hear bullets going by you, it is scary."
That incident still sticks in his mind as one of the most dangerous he has encountered.
As Weidman prepared to head back to the Naco Station after hours and miles on the road, he was facing time beyond the 11 p.m. end of the shift to make sure paperwork was completed.
Then it would be the drive home for Weidman, erasing from his human computer things he did not want to bring home to his family. Married with two children, Weidman said he does not take his work home.
What happens when he is on duty is something he shares with other agents.
The fortunate thing for him is that it takes 40 minutes for him to drive from the Naco Station to his home in the Sierra Vista area.
"That gives me time to decompress," Weidman said.
Bill Hess is certainly busy down there in Arizona.
Because you Californians have screwed up doesn't mean we in Arizona intend to follow suit.
As for sob stories, they are part of the picture as to why the illegal immigrants are continuing to rush across our portion of the border.
We at this newspaper have written editorials about the failure of the federal government to control the international boundary, leading to many deaths in Arizona. Congress is the major reason for the failure because they pass laws and then don't give agencies sufficient funds to enforce them.
As an example our federal governemnt says it is illegal to hire illegals, but companies big and small do becuase there is little enforcement. The recent Wal-Mart raids, netting 245 janitors was pure PR.
What is happening along our part of the in Arizona Cochise County is an attempt by an overworked, underpaid and under appreciated U.S. Border Patrol to stem the flow. Hopefully you read the main story in Sunday's paper. Although I was with the BP agents for slightly less than one shift you could see their dedication to uphold the nation's laws, along with their concerns for those illegal immigrants who deserve pity and their frustration at finding more and more marijuana.
If you think agents running through dark woods trying to round up drug-carrying human mules, or trying to locate drivers of vehicles who bail out and run once they are stopped leaving the illegal immigrants to their own devices isn't an example of good men and women duing their duty, something Congress has failed to do, then you don't have the full picture and that is why California, whose border with Mexico is so much smaller than Arizona now reaps the whirlwind of initial unconcern that was sown in that state.
The whirlwind is now coming across our portion of the border and whether we can weather the storm is up to those of us who live in Arizona. Unfortuantely, the only thing we have to look to as an example is California to try and find the right way to do things. Thanks for your comments.
Illegal immigration is a hot topic. I do get alot of pings and try to commnt on most of them. Sometimes after reading how lame our federal government is on the subject, I'm at a loss for words.
Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving JP.
It was different, hope yours was good!
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