Agent's Murder Part Of Rising Border Hazards

Last week U.S. Border Patrol Agent Robert Rosas was shot and killed near the town of Campo, Calif. It is believed he was murdered by suspected smugglers near the border fence. Host Scott Simon talks with Border Patrol Agent T.J. Bonner about the murder and the increasing hazards agents face.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Last week, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Robert Rosas was shot and killed near the town of Campo, California, east of San Diego. It is believed that Officer Rosas was murdered by suspected smugglers near the border fence. Mexican authorities are holding five people in connection with the incident.

We wondered how the current crackdown on drug, human and weapons smuggling on our southern border may be increasing the pressure facing border agents.

We're joined now by T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, and a border agent from the same station as Agent Rosas. Mr. Bonner, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. T.J. BONNER (President, National Border Patrol Council): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And first, we are very sorry for the loss of your colleague.

Mr. BONNER: Thank you.

SIMON: Have things become more precarious for border agents?

Mr. BONNER: Absolutely. We've noticed over the past few years a sharp increase in the number of assaults against our agents. And furthermore, the types of attacks are getting more and more violent.

SIMON: What do you tie these to, Mr. Bonner?

Mr. BONNER: The single-most discernible cause for this is the fact that the cartels have muscled their way into all types of smuggling - not just drugs anymore. Very much involved in human trafficking. And they have imported their violent means that they used to gain control of the drug routes.

SIMON: You know, we keep hearing stories in the past couple of years about the border bristling with increased technology and even weaponry, and four-wheelers and helicopters and spotlights. Has that had any effect?

Mr. BONNER: I think that the fortification of the border, if you will, has it made it more difficult to move contraband across the border, which has upped the ante.

SIMON: Upped the ante so it makes it more precious to get something across?

Mr. BONNER: Being more difficult to get across, it makes the smugglers more desperate to move their cargo across. So - and another thing, we have this power struggle down in Mexico between the various factions of the cartels, wherein thousands of people have been executed during the past several years. And now, we're starting to see that creep across the border.

SIMON: Agent Rosas, I understand, was on his own when he was executed. Should he have had a partner with him?

Mr. BONNER: Ideally, yes. Anytime you're that close to the border, you should have someone with you. But as a practical matter, when you have, at best, 5,000 agents on duty at any given time responsible for 8,000 miles of border, it's not always possible to have someone with you.

Now, obviously there will be a top-to-bottom review of the Border Patrol's tactics.

SIMON: But you leave the impression that agents are overstretched.

Mr. BONNER: Absolutely. Despite the fact that the Border Patrol doubled in size over the past three years, we're still woefully understaffed.

SIMON: If you could mandate a policy and provide some resources, what more could be done to protect agents?

Mr. BONNER: One of the most important things that needs to happen is Congress needs to enact laws that make it easy for employers to identify who has a right to work in this country, crack down on those employers who ignore or disobey that, which would eliminate most of the traffic coming across the border.

Instead of confronting millions of people in any given year, the Border Patrol would only have to deal with thousands of people. And yes, they would all be criminals and dangerous individuals. But instead of one agent confronting multiple people, multiple agents could confront one person, which would make it much safer.

SIMON: Mr. Bonner, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. BONNER: You're quite welcome.

SIMON: T.J. Bonner is president of the National Border Patrol Council and a border agent in Campo, California.

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