Adzobu, a naturalized U.S. citizen and native of Ghana, is one of more than 600 National Guard members who are part of the military’s Operation Jump Start, which President Bush ordered a year ago to control the influx of undocumented immigrants and narcotics at the border.
As a member of the intelligence team, Adzobu’s job is to collect information on human and drug trafficking. “We work hand to hand with Border Patrol agents,” he said. “Our team goes out to the field in order to gather information that might help us to stop the influx of immigrants. We also analyze the collected data for the protection of Border Patrol agents and soldiers.”
Adzobu’s haircutter, Dolores Quarrell, a native of Deming, said she supports the National Guard’s presence on the border. “There are many people who do not understand why they are here. They think that they are here only to keep the Mexicans out of our country,” said Quarrell, who cuts hair twice a week at the Guard’s tent city in Deming. “What I understand is that they are here for our safety. … They are protecting us.”
The National Guard’s mission is a joint effort with the Border Patrol, according to a statement by Lt. Col. William Evrage during Tuesday’s first-anniversary celebration of Operation Jump Start in Las Cruces. The National Guard gave the media a tour of where it works on the border.
“We have an agreement with the Border Patrol,” Evrage said. “We are their eyes and ears in our posts in the border between the two countries.”
He added that the soldiers’ job is not to apprehend people who cross into the U.S. illegally or stop drug traffickers. “We identify the type of activity taking place in the assigned area and report to Border Patrol agents, who take care of detentions,” he said.
He also said the soldiers are in charge of erecting fences in areas with more illegal human and drug trafficking problems. “We have our posts and observation centers in Deming, Las Cruces, Lordsburg and Santa Teresa,” he said.
Evrage said soldiers receive a week of training in Santa Fe before they are deployed to the border.
“Soldiers are taught about local customs,” Evrage said. “They are also given information about the rules regarding the use of force, their weapons and the job process with the Border Patrol.”
Martín Hernández, a spokesman and Border Patrol agent, said human crossings and drug trafficking have decreased since the Guard began helping the Border Patrol. “This year, we have 42 percent less apprehensions in all the border sector,” Hernández said. “This means that less people are crossing the border illegally, at least through our border.”
According to Border Patrol figures, from October to May 31, the Border Patrol has rescued 67 people in irrigation ditches, and there have been 15 deaths and 55,756 detentions of undocumented immigrants reported.
“Last year 97,459 were detained,” he added.
Senior Airman Joel Zebolsky is in charge of monitoring surveillance cameras with the help of thermal technology. “The cameras allow us to watch through a distance of one to one and a half miles in order to detect any kind of movement,” Zebolsky said. “The cameras register the temperature of moving objects, and depending on its temperature, we are able to identify it as a vehicle, person or animal.”
He said surveillance through this cameras takes place all day and night. “We work 12-hour shifts, so there is always someone watching the screen in order to identify moving objects,” he said.
In other areas, soldiers use radars in observation towers, allowing them to keep watch across uneven terrain.
In addition, the Border Patrol uses a helicopter equipped with surveillance cameras.
Although Operation Jump Start has taught the soldiers a lot, it has not provided the sense of adventure that some, such as Latasha Sweeney, expected.
“I thought there was going to be more action, more challenges,” she said. “I thought I was going to capture undocumented immigrants or that I was going to be able to use my rifle, something like that.”
Despite the Border Patrol and National Guard’s accomplishments, Operation Jump Start has faced opposition both from state lawmakers and others in New Mexico.
“I don’t agree with the militarization of the border,” said state Rep. Antonio Luján, D-Las Cruces, during an interview last week. “This idea of erecting a barrier for security in the border, I do not think is going to work. National Guard soldiers should be used in times of need, such as natural disasters.”
Martina Morales, a community coordinator for Border Network in El Paso, said in an interview this week that the soldiers’ presence on the border has concerned the religious community.
“We fought a lot so that City Council wouldn’t allow the National Guard to be stationed at the top of Cristo Rey Mountain, which is a sanctuary for Catholics and immigrants, where people from both sides of the border go to pray, to present their offerings,” she said.
Ever since the National Guard arrived, Catholics from Mexico have not been allowed to go there, Morales said. “People stopped going because last year, when they were coming down from the mountain, they were being asked for their papers,” she said. “All those who went on the pilgrimage, on foot or by car, were asked for their documents by Border Patrol agents.”
Morales said, in her opinion, the soldiers are not trained to take care of civil situations, only combat situations. “In fact, the Border Patrol commits a lot of abuse; well, the National Guard even more so,” she said.
However, for Quarrell, the National Guard helps the border communities of New Mexico. “My point of view is that the soldiers not only help our security, but also our economy,” she said.
Translation by Flor de María Oliva
Contact Norma Moreno at 470-7212 or [email protected]