Tuesday, September 04, 2007

San Diego Backcountry is Last Resort for Illegal Alien Entry to U.S.

This morning's Los Angeles Times has an interesting story on the immigration crisis in the San Yisidro Mountain wilderness, near San Diego, in Southern California, which has become a last resort entry point for illegal migrants to the U.S.

The article focuses on the work of "Team Gold," an elite unit of the U.S. Border Patrol, which is tasked with rough-country tracking of illegals aliens who have evaded the first barriers of U.S. border security:

The Black Hawk helicopter slips between craggy peaks looming over the U.S.-Mexico border and makes a lights-out landing in a barren valley.

Five agents of the U.S. Border Patrol's elite Air Mobile Unit jump into the darkness and take a narrow trail, their night vision goggles illuminating the treacherous terrain.

For an hour, they climb giant boulders, careful to stay away from the trail's edge, which spills into a steep canyon five miles into California.

Then the order comes over the radio in whispers. A motion sensor has been tripped. Migrants may be coming. Split up and take positions along the path.

From a steep perch, team leader Steve McPartland keeps watch on a rocky gap between two peaks across the canyon.

"If it's aliens, they'll probably come through that saddle," he whispers.

The agents lie back on the rocks, waiting in silence as a fog bank rolls in, shrouding the mountains in mist.

Illegal immigrants who make it this far inside California have beaten the front line of border defenses. The only things between them and the freeways are these mountains -- and the mobile unit's Team Gold. Its members are responsible for flushing out smugglers and migrants from some of the border's most rugged terrain.

These scrub-covered peaks in the backcountry east of San Diego are becoming the illegal entry point of last resort as beefed-up enforcement in urban areas and Arizona pushes migrant routes toward more rugged terrain.

Since the agency's San Diego area sector launched the unit four years ago, its 50 agents have apprehended more than 20,000 migrants and 347 suspected smugglers. The unit, divided into three teams -- Gold, Blue and Green -- is the only one of its kind in the agency.
Read the whole thing. The Team Gold membership is something of a thrillseeker's set, and while no members of their unit have died in the line of duty, the daunting challenges of the the job result in regular stress and frequent injuries. Unfortunately, the unit's work is often not always appreciated, with some arguing that this "gold line of border defense" detracts from more central missions of the Border Patrol:

Some Border Patrol brass initially opposed the unit's formation precisely because of such dangers. Others questioned whether the squad was a wise use of resources, saying that it drained staffing from traditional assignments directly on the border.

But because thousands of migrants kept taking mountainous routes without interference, officials decided that the benefits outweighed the potential risks.
Considering the great centality of illegal immigration on the national policy agenda, I see the work of the Team Gold as a vital element of a comprehensive national approach to immigration policy and border security.

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