Agent Robert Smith

Agent Robert Smith

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 15 1997 3:30 AM

Agent Robert Smith

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       My alarm sounded this morning much earlier than I expected. I woke up groggy, thinking that I must have set it wrong, but alas, it really was 4:45. I'm so glad the weekend is coming. I am really looking forward to sleeping in. I arrived at the station at the usual time and, to my gratification, was not the butt of any jokes. The weather today was horrible. Yesterday it was overcast and threatened to rain, today it rained (again) and, with the wind blowing, it felt cold (especially for Southern California). My assignment today was to augment the traffic checkpoint. I was assigned a partner (Charlie 294), and he drew the vehicle. Today we had a sedan.
       We proceeded to Old Highway 80 (a road used to circumnavigate our checkpoint) and commenced traffic watch. Upon arrival, dispatch radioed that a California Highway Patrol officer had a person in custody that he believed was an illegal alien and he wanted someone to evaluate the suspect further. Since traffic on Old 80 was scarce, to say the least, we responded.
       We arrived at the La Posta Café to find the officer with his subject. The man readily admitted to being an illegal alien from Mexico. His clothing was soaked, and he looked tired and ragged, as if lacking sleep and food. He told us that he hadn't eaten in three days, so we bought him breakfast and questioned him about his venture. He said that there were 13 people in his group and that they crossed the border late yesterday afternoon. They had moved only a short distance north of the border when the smuggler told them to get some rest. A few hours later, after it was dark, the group began to move north again. He said that they were on the move for about two hours when they saw flashlights moving in their direction from the south. He knew that La Migra (Mexican slang for the Border Patrol) was on their trail. The smuggler ordered them to move faster, but they were already tired from walking and La Migra was gaining ground. Seeing that it was futile to try to outrun the agents, the smuggler told them to scatter into the brush and hide. Within minutes, he said, the agents had busted the group. They found 10 of the aliens, but failed to find him. After they left, he walked down a dirt road to the La Posta Café, and slept in the phone booth to escape the elements. That is where the CHP officer caught him.
       As he sat there shivering and sipping on his piping-hot coffee, I asked him what happened to the other two. He proceeded to tell me that they were two young males, about 12 and 15 years old, and that they collapsed on the trail about 30 minutes before the rest of the group was busted. He thought that their condition was caused by dehydration. He begged them to get up, but when they did not respond he got scared and left with the rest of the group. "I think they're dead," he said, hanging his head in sorrow.
       Upon hearing this we proceeded to question him as to exactly where they were. When did he last see them? Was he sure that they were dead? etc., etc. My partner immediately contacted a supervisor, and I passed the story along to the two sheriff's deputies who were sitting across the room in another booth.
       With the weather as bad as it was, there was no chance of getting assistance from any helicopters, so we assembled a search-and-rescue team comprised of U.S. Border Patrol agents and sheriff's deputies and tried to track down these two individuals. Due to the fact that it had been raining steadily for almost a day, any sign that was left on the trail was washed away by now. Furthermore, the rain washed their scent away, rendering the canines ineffective as well.
       In the past, aliens have been known to stretch the truth. They give us false names, addresses, birth dates, etc. However, there is nothing to be gained from fabricating a tale of this magnitude. Nevertheless, I decided to verify his story. A record check showed that a group fired the sensor on the trail that he claimed to be on at roughly the time he claimed to be there. Further checks revealed that 10 people were apprehended from this sensor activation.
       Could he be telling the truth? If so, where are the bodies? If he is in fact telling the truth, it will add two more names to the list of deaths attributed to greedy smugglers. They choose to cross in the most inclement weather in the hopes that we will not want to get out of our nice, warm trucks to chase them. You see, smugglers generally don't get paid until their aliens get to where they intend to go. If there are people in the group that cause the group to move too slowly, they will be left behind because of the smugglers' compelling need to deliver the rest of their "cargo" and receive their money. Due to this total lack of compassion, we found roughly 16 people dead of exposure last winter alone. I hope history does not continue to repeat itself. For now, however, we are continuing the search.

Robert Smith is an agent with the United States Border Patrol based in Campo, Calif., 40 miles east of San Diego.