Personnel freed up Border Patrol for law enforcement

“I'llgowherevertheywantmetogo,”saidStaffSgt.DanMcBride,44,thecrew'ssupervisor,amailcarrierfromFresnowhoplanstogobacktohisfull-timejobforawhilebeforehislikelydeploymenttoIraqinFebruary.“Butthishasbeensweet,SanDiego.”
AftertwoyearsspentsupportingtheBorderPatrol,performingjobsthathaveincludedsurveillance,airtransportation,buildingandfixingborderfenceandrepairingroads,theNationalGuardbeginspullingoutSunday,withthelastofthepersonnelleavinginJuly.
TheirworkwaspartofaBushadministrationprojectdubbedOperationJumpStart,begunwiththeideathattheNationalGuard'sassistancewithnonenforcementjobswouldallowtheBorderPatroltousemoreofitsagentsforpatrolwhileitwentaboutboostingitsstaffto18,000.
Asmanyas6,000guardsmen,somejustbackhomefromoverseasdeployment,volunteeredalongthesouthernborderthefirstyear,withabout1,200ofthoseinCalifornia.Theirnumberswerehalvedlastyearastheoperationwounddown.
Thejuryisstilloutonjusthowmuchtheirpresencehelpeddeterillegalimmigrationanddrugtraffic.Border-crossingarrests,whiledownalongmostofthesouthernborder,havebeenontheriseinSanDiego.BetweenOct.1andtheendofApril,arrestsintheSanDiegosectorwereup10percent.Arrestsareseenasabarometerofillegalimmigration;whenarrestsareup,itisassumedthatmorepeopleareattemptingtocross.
“ThereisnoevidencethattheGuard'spresenceontheborderhasaddedsignificantlytothedeterrenteffectoftheBorderPatrol,andthephysicalfortificationsalreadythere,”saidWayneCornelius,directoroftheCenterforComparativeImmigrationStudiesattheUniversityofCaliforniaSanDiego.
BorderPatrolunionleaders,whoinitiallycriticizedtheoperationaspoliticalwindowdressing,don'tthinkithashadagreatdeterrenteffect,“butobviously,wecanuseallthehelpwecanget,”saidChrisBauder,presidentofLocal1613oftheNationalBorderPatrolCouncil,whichrepresentsSanDiego-areaagents.
Nonetheless,it'sundeniablethattheguardsmenhaveworkedhardandhadalastingeffectonborderinfrastructure.AccordingtoU.S.CustomsandBorderProtection,Guardpersonnelhavebuilt37milesofborderfenceandmorethan85milesofvehiclebarrier,includingalmost7milesofbarriernearElCentromadeofrecycledrailroadtrack.
Theyhavebuilt18milesofall-weatherroadforpatrolvehiclesandrepairedmorethan700milesofroadalongtheentiresouthernborder.AccordingtotheCaliforniaNationalGuard,troopsworkingontheborderinCaliforniawillhaverehabilitatedmorethan35milesofroad.
Bythetimetheyleave,theyalsoareexpectedtohaveretrofittedmorethan18,700feetofsecondarysteel-meshfencebetweentheSanYsidroandOtayMesaportsofentry.Theyarestraighteningandreweldingthesteelpoststomakethefence,oncebentatanangle,standstraightataheightof16feet,makingitlessaccessibletosmugglers'ladders.
NationalGuardengineersworkingintheSanDiegosectoralsohavehelpedmovemorethan250,000cubicyardsofearthatRussianHill,westoftheSanYsidroportofentry,aspartofaroad-buildingandfence-extensionproject.
Border-wide,GuardpersonnelworkingsurveillancefortheBorderPatrolhaveassistedinroughly166,000border-crossingarrests,100rescues,andtheseizureof298,000poundsofdrugs,saidCustomsandBorderProtectionspokesmanMichaelFriel.
“TheNationalGuardmemberswereabletosupportbordersecurityoperationsthroughadministrativeandlogisticalsupport,andalsohelptobeeyesandearssothatagentscanfocusonlawenforcement,”Frielsaid.
TheBorderPatrol,whichhad11,583agentsnationwidewhentheoperationbegan,hasincreaseditsrankstoabout16,000andhopestomeetitsgoalof18,000agentsbyyear'send.AgencyrecruitershavebeenseekingnewhiresthroughouttheUnitedStates,usingcreativeadvertisingthathasincludedsponsoringaNASCARracecar.RecruitersalsorecentlytraveledoverseasforthefirsttimetoscoutforhiresatU.S.militarybasesinGermany.
However,newagentswon'tbereadyforpatroldutyrightaway,Baudersaid.Anewhireneedsroughlyayearofworkaftercompletingacademytrainingbeforemakingindependentpatrols,hesaid.
VariouslawmakershavecalledforkeepingtheNationalGuardontheborderlonger.But,atleastfornow,theGuard'slarge-scaleborderstintisfinished,andsomeguardsmensaytheyaresadtogo.Manywillgohome,whileothershavealreadyreceiveddeploymentorderstoIraq,AfghanistanorKosovo.
“Therearealotofpeopledisappointedthatthismissioniscomingtoanend,”saidMasterSgt.MichaelDrake,aspokesmanfortheCaliforniaNationalGuardinSanDiego.“Theythinktheyaredoingsomethingveryworthwhile.”
Takingabreakfromretrofittinglastweek,Spec.JonathanWoodofSebago,Maine,saidthatfornow,hewasgoinghomeafterastintworkingontheborderfence.
“ItfeelsgoodtohelpoutanddostuffintheU.S.,”saidWood,26.“It'smoreofasenseofpride,beingabletoprotectourcountryathome.”


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