Crime Trackers

May 2, 2011 12:01 PM

Crime Trackers: Border Patrol's Forward Operating Bases

TUCSON - The Tucson sector of the Border Patrol is considered among the busiest in the nation.

They are responsible for covering 262 miles of the US/Mexico border.

In 2009, nearly half of all marijuana seizures seized along the Southwest border came from here - and over half all illegal immigrants come through the Tucson sector.

In this Crime Trackers investigation, Lupita Murillo and photographer Kean Bauman were given unprecedented access to a special camp along the US/Mexico border.

As more manpower and resources are dedicated to protect the border, agents are setting up camps that take them closer to the action. They're called Forward Operating Camps.

These agents are stationed in rural areas known as "hot spots" to respond quickly.

In this Crime Trackers investigation, you'll see agents in action, and the remoteness of where they work.
In rugged terrain in the harsh Southern Arizona desert, Border Patrol agents quickly move to find illegal activity.

Agent Jorge Sanchez says, "The scope operator had a visual of large back packs, that's what we saw."

We're in an undisclosed location to protect the agents who sign up for the extra duty-- they're here a week at a time in this Forward Operating Camp. The camp is self contained, powered by generators.

Agent Brian Irving says, "To have a remote camp set out here for the traffic that crosses is very important."
Important because it cuts down the driving time agents have to go through to get here.

Agent Jason Rheinfrank says, "Agents can respond before a lot of this illegal activity gets north and they load up into a vehicle and make their way up to Tucson and Phoenix."

This assignment is equally dangerous.

Agent Irving says, "I've come across an armed group, it wasn't out here at this camp it was at a different location."

Agent Sanchez says, "You never know if they are armed they could have rifles or guns with them."

Sanchez and other agents were lucky. They came across a group of smugglers who had no weapons but they were armed with bundles of marijuana.

They dropped them when agents came up behind them.
A K-9 unit was brought in to find the drugs; the horse patrol was called in to load it up.

Agents arrested 10 illegal border crossers, and seized 8 bundles of marijuana.

The Tucson sector was the first area to form forward operating bases and camps.

That was in 2004. The difference: the camps can be moved to respond to a threat or a surge of activity. The base is a permanent structure that has a processing facility.

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