Agent Robert Smith

Agent Robert Smith

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 13 1997 3:30 AM

Agent Robert Smith

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       Today starts out much the same as yesterday. I arrive at work at approximately 6:45 a.m. and prepare for the daily muster meeting. The supervisor goes over the information on the hot board. Not much has changed since yesterday. The patrol agent in charge of Campo Station attends, and gives us some words of encouragement. He is a very busy man and unless we have urgent business to attend to with him, we rarely see him. It is nice to hear that he approves of the way we are conducting operations. My assignment today is primary response in Zone 2.
       I draw my service vehicle (a 1997 Chevy Blazer) from the issue officer and conduct an inspection to ensure that everything is in proper working condition. I am not assigned a partner today, and as I leave the station, I contact the previous shift's officer in charge of Zone 2 to find out what had happened during the night. "Charlie 135, Charlie 316, copy local?"
       "Charlie 316 go for Charlie 135," he replies.
       "Yeah, are you guys working anything?" I ask.
       "Negative, not right now ... we had a couple of groups cross last night, a group of 11 crossed near Dog Patch around 3 o'clock, and a group of 10 to 12 crossed by the yellow scraper at 4:30. We got all the first group, but only seven from the group near the yellow scraper; the rest went back south," he says.
       I reply, "OK, well I've got it from here, you can return to the station. ... Have a good one." Then I proceed to signcut the back roads looking for anything that might have crossed that hadn't been detected previously.
       Starr Ranch Road is pretty clean, so I go farther north to the cowboy-camp road and I find some old sign from a group that probably crossed a couple of days ago, but nothing current enough to chase.
       The weather this morning is still cold and wet. It has been alternating between a drizzle and light rain all day. I was under the impression that "it never rains in Southern California." I guess whoever said that didn't live here long. The roads are muddy, but still passable for now. Dispatch alerts Zone-2 units that a sensor has activated in our zone. The primary cut-and-drag unit advises that he is en route to check it and I position myself on Highway 94 where that particular trail comes out, and wait. Approximately six minutes later the primary cut unit says, "Disregard, it's only a cow." The rest of the day is more of the same, probably due to the nasty weather. Nothing crosses during the entire shift in any zone today. I wasn't going to have a whole lot to write about until ... shift change.
       We change shift at 5:00 p.m. and the smugglers are aware of that. Before the oncoming shift comes into the zone, the primary cut-and-drag unit reports that he has a group across the border road near Zuellner's ranch and that he's going to "get on it" (i.e., track them). They haven't hit any sensors, so we don't know for sure how far behind them we are. I say, "What kind of sign do you have?"
       He says, "Well, there is a diamond-rope sole, a tank-tread boot, a cowboy boot, and a bunch of assorted running shoes ... looks like a pretty big group."
       From that area of the border, the groups usually continue north and cross Starr Ranch Road and eventually end up at the cowboy camp. I proceed to Starr Ranch Road and start signcutting for the sign that Charlie 325--the primary cut unit--had called out. As I stated previously, I had been on this road earlier in the shift, and it was clean. I find the sign that he was chasing. It is already across Starr Ranch Road, so I proceed to the cowboy camp. I do not see it on the cowboy-camp road so I know that the group is somewhere between the two roads.
       I get on the radio and say, "Charlie 325, Charlie 316, copy?"
       "Yeah, go ahead, Rob," he replies.
       "They are already across Starr Ranch Road, but they haven't made it to the cowboy camp yet, so go to Starr ranch and start pushing them from there. I'll lay in for them up here."
       It is rapidly growing dark so I hide my truck behind some bushes and wait on the trail that they will "pop out" on. Thankfully, it stopped raining about an hour ago. The oncoming shift has been advised that we have traffic and they let me know that they are en route to help. From the station it will take about 20 minutes to get here.
       It is completely dark now. Charlie 325 advises, "OK, I'm at Starr ranch and they are going due north on the main trail." I know that if they stay on this trail they will come right to me. I crouch under a bush, motionless, listening. For some reason, sound tends to travel farther at night. It is only a few minutes later when I hear brush breaking. I think, "Oh man, they're here already and I'm up here by myself." My pulse and breathing are beginning to quicken now as my adrenalin starts to build. My mind begins to race as I hear them coming closer. My thoughts jump. "Man it's dark out here. ... Where are my partners, anyway? ... I wonder how many aliens are in this group. ... Will they scatter when I try to arrest them, or will they try to fight me? ... Do they have weapons or drugs? ... Man it is really dark out here. ... Where in the hell are my partners?!"
       The group is getting closer now. They are about 25 yards away and closing fast. It sounds like there are a thousand of them. I can see a faint outline moving toward me. They are all in a column, following the trail. They are within 10 yards and I think, "Well, it's now or never." I launch myself out of the bush, turn on my flashlight, grab the lead guy and shout, "Parense, La Migra!" [Stop, Border Patrol!] The group is momentarily paralyzed with fear and then ...
       "I've got bodies, they're busting everywhere," I announce over the radio. Evidently, the group overcame its initial fear and scattered into the brush, in every conceivable direction. I handcuff the only guy I could grab and start combing the brush to look for others. Within a couple of minutes the rest of the agents are on the scene, and between the five of us, we round up an additional 18 people.
       Although we had this one group cross today, things have slowed down immensely from a year ago. Last year at this time we had so many groups crossing that we couldn't work them all. Will the traffic pick up again, or is this the way of things to come? I guess only time will tell. Until tomorrow.

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