Early Sunday morning a Border Patrol agent patrolling an area about a mile from the San Ysidro (CA) Port of Entry was shot at while sitting in his marked patrol vehicle. Fortunately, the agent wasn’t hit and was able to quickly move to a safer area before any further attack took place. But, the incident highlights just how vulnerable our Border Patrol agents, who work mandatory overtime due to chronic understaffing and are forced to use outdated equipment, are against well-funded cartels.
“This was a clear attempt to murder one of our Border Patrol agents,” said Border Patrol agent Vincent Pirro. “Multiple rounds missed the vehicle,” which was occupied by a 22-year Border Patrol veteran.
In some ways, this section of border between San Ysidro and the Pacific is similar to the DMZ, or the no-man’s-land between the Central Powers and the Allied Powers in World War I. The original fencing, only eight feet tall and hastily constructed from surplus Vietnam-era landing grates, is at the border. Just on the Mexican side of the border is Colonia Libertad, a rough part of the Tijuana area, and a major highway, Via Internacional. As you can see, this fencing is solid, so agents cannot see what dangers might lurk on the other side.
The second set of fencing, 12 feet tall and constructed in the mid 1990s, is set off by at least a few feet, depending upon the section of border. The photo below, taken during my border visit earlier this year, shows Smuggler’s Gulch and the distance between the two fences.
Though it’s only approximately six miles from the San Ysidro Port of Entry to the Pacific Ocean, the border area is desolate and, with the Border Patrol down 2,000 agents nationwide, not always fully staffed. This no-man’s land is theoretically under the control of the US Border Patrol but, according to National Border Patrol Council representatives, Mexican drug cartels control who gets to try to cross the border, when, and how much it costs them. If someone tries to cross the border on their own, tries to smuggle drugs, or tries to strike out on their own as a “coyote,” retribution is brutal and swift.
The only class of people somewhat ignored by the cartels are the “deportados,” or people who have a criminal record in the United States and have been deported. The cartels don’t want to use them as coyotes or drug runners because of the increased headaches if they’re apprehended. They can’t find work in Mexico either, and some live in shantytowns along the border or even in storm drains along the Tijuana River that are filled with toxic waste. There, they wait for an opportunity to cross the border and continue their life of crime.
Increased enforcement and the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy has resulted in a sharp increase in apprehensions along the border, which likely impacts the cartels’ income stream from border crossing activities – and doesn’t make the cartel leaders very happy. Obviously, since I’m not part of the investigation I don’t know for sure, but it’s not a stretch to believe that this shooting is a warning shot to the US government and the Border Patrol over the issue.
After the shooting Mexican authorities detained two men, one of whom had a 9 millimeter gun (and there is no Second Amendment in Mexico, so that is highly illegal). The man who had a gun, 35-year-old Sergio N., a/k/a “El Checo,” had been previously deported after being convicted of human smuggling. According to news reports, he had been living in Tijuana for the last six months.
Attacks on Border Patrol agents aren’t new or rare. In fiscal year 2017, 83 assaults on agents were reported in the San Diego sector. In a majority of cases, rocks are the weapon of choice. Attacks involving gunfire coming from the Mexican side of the border are extremely rare.
In numerous news stories about this shooting, it’s speculated that Mexican cartels are involved. Since the cartels control the (attempted) movement of people and goods over the border, and because any extra scrutiny something such as the attempted murder of a federal agent would bring to the area would impact the flow of “product” over the border, the most likely scenario is that the cartels did order this shooting, and possibly even ordered that it not be a fatal shooting.
According to sources who spoke to RedState on background, the cartels know that Border Patrol agents are more vulnerable at night and when it’s foggy because their night-vision equipment doesn’t work well in the fog. The cartels have state-of-the-art equipment and, had they wanted to simply eliminate an agent, could have easily used their superior equipment and a sniper to do so.
El Checco remains in custody in Tijuana, but the other man has been released. The FBI is working with Mexican authorities and the U.S. Attorney’s office on the investigation.