Agent Robert Smith

Agent Robert Smith

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 12 1997 3:30 AM

Agent Robert Smith

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       The start of my day came very early, as my alarm sounded abruptly at 4:45 a.m. I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled in the dark toward my bathroom. I remember thinking that my apartment seemed much colder today than in the recent past. "Hmm ... must be cold outside," I said aloud, my voice scratchy and hoarse from sleep. I poured a bowl of Peanut Butter Crunch and proceeded to the daily routine to prepare for work. At 6 a.m., I was on the road. The Howard Stern Show was particularly funny today. My mind began to wander as it usually does when I commute. I tend to get a lot of thinking done on the road. When I looked at the schedule yesterday, it said that I would be one of the primary cut-and-drag units in Zone 4 today. At least it is Zone 4. I am currently working the day shift, which has slowed tremendously since last year, but Zone 4 is busier than any of the other zones that I could be working in. I arrived at the station at approximately 6:45 for a 7 o'clock muster meeting. The previous shift had a fresh pot of coffee brewing, so I went to the cupboard to get my mug. I opened the door to find that the handle had been broken off my ceramic coffee cup. "Damn it, who has been using my mug?" Of course, no one would own up to it, and looking around the room, all I saw were blank stares. If the guilty party is in this room, he is hiding it pretty well. I thought, "God only knows what disgusting, vile crap they might have been doing to it," so instead I grabbed a Styrofoam cup and poured it full.
       Today's muster was no different from any other. The supervisor conducted roll call; went over current trends in the smuggling arena; and talked about the upcoming food drive for Thanksgiving, the toy drive for Christmas, and the station Christmas party. He then started assigning the agents their zones and positions. The schedule has become a work in progress. It changes at the last minute due to people calling in sick or other operational needs that suddenly become a priority. Instead of doing primary cut and drag in Zone 4, I was assigned to work vehicular traffic in an area where smugglers are trying to circumvent our traffic checkpoint. My partner today is a trainee who has just recently graduated from the academy. I handed him the keys and said, "Joe, go and check the fluid levels and make sure the emergency equipment works, will ya?"
       He returned approximately 15 minutes later and assured me that we were ready to go. The sky was overcast, and there was an incessant drizzle.
       "The weatherman said that there are a couple more storm systems behind this one; maybe there is something to this El Niño thing after all," the trainee commented.
       "Yeah, maybe so," I said. "By the way, what is your call sign in case we happen to get separated?"
       "Charlie 400," he said. "And yours?"
       "I'm Charlie 316. Nice to meet you."
       "Likewise," he said.
       We arrived at the road that we were supposed to watch and got settled in for possible alien drive-around traffic. If you have ever seen the movie 48 Hours, you probably have a good idea as to what a "stakeout" is like. Hours of boredom with a slight possibility of high adventure. The road was void of activity, yet unbeknownst to us, high adventure was about to take over.
       After about an hour of watching the rain, the service radio crackled to life with dispatch reporting that a sensor detecting vehicular traffic activated on this road.
       "Hey, that's ours, Joe," I said. "If the follow-up unit hits in about 10 minutes, it is probably good traffic."
       "How long will it take them to get here?" he inquired.
       "Well, it should take about 10 minutes to get to the follow-up unit and another 10 minutes to get here."
       Nine minutes later, the follow-up unit hit. Roughly eight minutes after that, an older-model white Ford van crested the hill. As it passed us, I could see a middle-aged Hispanic man driving. The van was straining under a tremendous load. We took up a position behind the van and ran a check on the license plate. It wasn't stolen, but it was registered to a man in Los Angeles, which is where a lot of the alien traffic that we catch is headed. The man was driving very slowly in the hope that we would pass. As the van rounded corners, it leaned to the outside of the curves, thus confirming the fact that it was heavily laden. There were no windows in the back of the van, so we decided to stop it for further investigation. I activated the emergency lights, and the van began to yield to the side of the road. "Bailout, they're bailing!" Joe screamed. As I was slowing to a stop behind the van, all the doors came open and Hispanic men, women, and children poured out of every orifice like water through a strainer. I leaped from the car and was physically able to grab only four people. My trainee had another three, and all we could do was watch as the others ran willy-nilly around the van and disappeared into the woods.
       "They must have been crammed in there like sardines," Joe said. "How many do you think there were?"
       "I'd guess about 15 or so," I replied.
       By the time we secured the scene and seized the van, we could only track down two more people; the rest were gone. Dick's Towing Co. arrived on the scene approximately 30 minutes later. The driver loaded the van onto a flatbed trailer, and we transported the aliens to the traffic checkpoint. For the next three hours, we processed all nine aliens for removal from the country and typed the necessary paperwork to seize the van.
       Usually when a load vehicle bails out, the aliens do not know for sure where they are. They lose their smuggler and their ride and end up giving up in a matter of hours. I informed the oncoming shift as to the location of the bailout, and they assured me they would patrol the area for stragglers.
       Days like this make it exciting to be a patrol agent.

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