Surge Cited In Attacks On U.S. Border Agents

Surge cited in attacks on U.S. border agents;
Chertoff says Mexico helping track killers

By Dave Montgomery, McClatchy Newspapers
Chicago Tribune
January 23, 2008 Wednesday
Chicago Final Edition

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday that the U.S. and Mexico are working aggressively to track the killers of a Border Patrol agent over the weekend in what Chertoff described as a surge in violence against federal agents along the Southwest border.

“This is outrageous, killing a Border Patrol agent,” Chertoff said. “We're committed to bringing the people who did this to justice.”

Luis Aguilar, 32, a father of two, was killed Saturday by a vehicle speeding through the Imperial San Dunes Recreation Area near Andrade, Calif. Aguilar was assigned to the Yuma Border Patrol Station, just across the state line in Arizona. Chertoff said the agent apparently was “killed deliberately” when he tried to stop the vehicle with a device that punctures tires. He was the first border agent killed in the line of duty since 1998.

Chertoff was joined by officials of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a branch of Homeland Security.

Chertoff said that Border Patrol agents are virtually under siege by violent drug cartels retaliating against toughened enforcement. Assaults on border agents have increased 44 percent from October through December, compared with the same period a year ago.

“When you turn the screws on them they start to fight more viciously to protect their dwindling business.”

Chertoff blamed the assaults on an increased presence of law enforcement on the border, turf battles among cartels and criminal resistance to the law.

“Is this violence a deliberate effort to target the Border Patrol? The answer to that is yes,” Chertoff said.

Violent incidents increased between fiscal 2006 and 2007 to 987 from 752, according to Homeland Security. The most troublesome area is El Centro sector near the middle of California's southern border, one of the nation's leading smuggling corridors.

Chertoff restated the department's determination to erect 670 miles of fencing along the Southwest border by the end of 2008.