Category Archives: Border security

Tucson border agent shot and wounded near Arizona-Mexico border

One of rancher Jim Chilton’s pastures near Arivaca is shown. A Border Patrol agent was shot and wounded near the ranch Tuesday, Chilton said he was told by the agency. Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star

A Tucson Border Patrol agent shot and wounded south of Arivaca while on duty Tuesday was in stable condition, a union representative said.

The agent was involved in a shooting incident about 4:30 a.m., officials said in a news release. Jim Chilton, a local rancher, said he was told by the Border Patrol that the agent was by himself and struck in the hand, leg and into his protective vest, “which worked, thank God,” he said. “How he got from that state to be rescued, I have no idea.”

The agent, whose name hasn’t been released, was taken to a hospital where he was in stable condition, said Art Del Cueto, president of the local chapter of the Border Patrol Union.

The agency said several people were taken into custody.

The shooting happened in the Chimney Canyon area, about 10 miles from the border and close to Chilton’s ranch house in an area frequently used by drug and people smugglers.

“Chimney Canyon is a wide canyon which undoubtedly has cartel scouts on the mountains that guide drug packers and individuals just trying to get into the U.S.,” Chilton said, adding that he has seen increased traffic in the area during the last couple of months.

Chilton ranches 50,000 acres that include a remote stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border in the Altar Valley.

The Border Patrol has released very little information about the incident, citing the ongoing investigation. A news conference initially scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday was postponed until Wednesday morning. The FBI and Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Personal Responsibility are involved in the investigation.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

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Homeland Security secretary visits Nogales, cites ‘lawlessness’ of border

Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of homeland security, right, and Congresswoman Martha McSally at the DeConcini Port of Entry on Thursday. Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star

NOGALES — The border is in crisis and being exploited by smugglers, but the administration is taking steps to put an end to the lawlessness, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Thursday.

People continue to cross the border illegally, she said, “because they can and because they do not face any consequences.”

Nielsen visited Nogales as part of a Southern Arizona tour that included the ports of entry in Douglas and Nogales and roundtable discussions with border community business leaders, ranchers and law enforcement officials. She was hosted by Rep. Martha McSally and accompanied by Rep. David Schweikert, both Republicans from Arizona.

In a brief news conference after Nielsen toured the ports of entry and met with stakeholders, she spoke about the deployment of the National Guard and the administration’s zero-tolerance policy to refer for prosecution everyone apprehended by Border Patrol.

She also said her agency will use funding from fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to build 150 new miles of wall and refurbish other fencing that needs upgrading. Congress needs to support a wall system that will enable agents and officers to keep the community safe, she said.

“It’s a very large and dangerous mission we’re undertaking here to secure the border on behalf of the American people and we couldn’t do it without their support,” she said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Arizona National Guard’s deployment allows for more border agents to be on patrol

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Evitts, with the Arizona Army National Guard, and Border Patrol agent Stephanie Dixon interact with Cobalt in Nogales. Evitts frees up two border agents by tending to the horses’ needs at the agency’s corrals. Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star

The current border mission of the Arizona National Guard is to help get more Border Patrol agents on the ground, but quantifying how many more is not that simple, officials said Wednesday.

“It depends on the task at hand. It’s not a 1-for-1 (ratio) in every case,” said Daniel Hernandez, a Border Patrol spokesman for the Tucson Sector, during a media tour of the various tasks the soldiers are doing in Nogales.

As of this week, there are about 240 National Guard members deployed as part of Operation Guardian Support in the Tucson Sector, with more than 30 working out of the Nogales station. Each of the nine Border Patrol stations in the sector have some guard members serving in a support role, Border Patrol and National Guard officials said.

Last month, Gov. Doug Ducey announced the deployment of the National Guard at President Trump’s request. As of today, the Guard is authorized to deploy about 600 members through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, said Capt. Aaron Thacker, a spokesman for the Arizona National Guard.

For instance, Thomas Evitts, a sergeant first class, is now tasked with caring for the horses in Nogales, relieving two Border Patrol agents who can now go out on patrol.

Evitts grew up around horses in Gilbert and now cleans the stables, makes sure the horses have food and water and that those like Cobalt, who is recovering from a torn ligament, have adequate care.

“I’ve always liked horses. My son has horses,” he told reporters. “I like animals.”

While he didn’t imagine he was volunteering to care for horses, he said he is used to performing a variety of tasks for the National Guard, which he joined in 2001.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Border agent Lonnie Swartz to be tried again in cross-border shooting of teen

“They gave me and my family good news,” Araceli Rodriguez, the mother of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, said after a retrial was announced Friday in the shooting death of her son. The trial is set to start Oct. 23. Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz will be tried again in the killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez.

Federal prosecutors announced their decision for a new trial on voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges at a hearing Friday in Tucson’s federal court. The trial is scheduled to start Oct. 23.

Swartz, originally charged with second-degree murder in the 2012 shooting, was acquitted of that charge on April 23 by a jury of eight women and four men. U.S. District Judge Raner Collins gave them the option to consider voluntary and involuntary manslaughter if they were unable to reach a verdict. But after four days of deliberation, the jurors told the judge they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on the lesser charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier said she couldn’t comment on the government’s decision to retry the case. But Sean Chapman, one of two defense attorneys representing Swartz, said he wasn’t surprised.

“It’s typical in a homicide case where there was a mistrial on some counts,” he said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Full coverage or the Lonnie Swartz trial.

Arizona federal courts too busy to add more border-crosser cases, chief judge says

U.S. District Court in Tucson. Arizona Daily Star / file

Federal district courts in Arizona are already working at capacity and can’t take more prosecutions, their chief judge said Monday. He was responding to the U.S. attorney general’s announcement that the Department of Homeland Security is now referring 100 percent of unauthorized border crossings for prosecution.

“We can only do what we do now,” said U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins. “We are at our limit.”

In fiscal 2017, more than 14,000 people were sentenced to prison for crossing the border illegally (entry and re-entry) in the District of Arizona, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Last fiscal year, the Border Patrol made nearly 39,000 apprehensions in its Tucson sector and close to 13,000 in its Yuma sector — numbers that could potentially mean doubling the number of prosecutions if everyone is prosecuted. While a person can be apprehended more than once in a given year, the recidivism rate among the agency’s arrestees has decreased significantly over the years.

“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday. “It’s that simple.”

This includes parents who come with their children. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said. “… So if you’re going to come to this country, come here legally. Don’t come here illegally.”

In the first four months of the year, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, an Arizona-based organization that provides free legal services to those in immigration detention, has seen 135 cases of parents separated from their children, said Lauren Dasse, the group’s executive director. It had 213 cases in all of 2017, she said, up from 190 the previous year.

“We have concerns, especially when we talk about prosecuting every single immigrant,” Dasse said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Jurors on opposite sides: Was agent stopping threat, or lethally over-reacting?

Kevin Briggs and Heather Schubert, two of the 12 jurors in the murder trial of Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star.

After sitting in a courtroom and listening to evidence for four weeks, a Tucson jury was deadlocked almost immediately on whether to convict Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz — a reflection of the strong divisions in society when it comes to law enforcement and the border.

Swartz, 43, was indicted in 2015 after firing 16 shots through the border fence at Nogales in response to rock throwers, killing Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez. The 16-year-old Mexico native was hit eight times in the back and twice in the head.

While the decision to not convict the agent on a second-degree murder charge was quick, the jurors couldn’t agree on two lesser charges: voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, two jurors said in interviews.

“We felt second-degree was not an appropriate sentence for him,” said Heather Schubert.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Full coverage or the Lonnie Swartz trial.

Feds mull retrial after border agent cleared in Mexican teen’s killing

Protesters block traffic at Congress Street and Sixth Avenue, shutting down traffic, after Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz was found not guilty of second-degree murder on April 23, 2018. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on two lesser charges of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star.

Federal prosecutors will consider whether to retry Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz on lesser charges after a jury acquitted him Monday of second-degree murder in the 2012 death of a Mexican teen.

“We are very disappointed for the family, for the victim and for the community,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst outside the federal courtroom in Tucson after the verdict, which was followed by protests that blocked downtown streets into the night.

After nearly five days of deliberations, the jury of eight women and four men also told the judge it was hopelessly deadlocked on the two less-serious charges it was considering against Swartz, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.

Kleindienst said prosecutors will assess what was going through the jurors’ minds before deciding whether to retry Swartz on the manslaughter charges.

“It’s too soon to tell,” he said. “We all might be back here again.”

Swartz was charged in the October 2012 killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez of Nogales, Sonora. The agent is accused of firing 16 shots through the Nogales border fence in response to a group of rock throwers, including Elena Rodríguez, who was hit eight times in the back and twice in the head.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star or scroll below for complete trial coverage.