Mexican criminal syndicates are stepping up their attacks on US agents patrolling the border as officials of the Homeland Security Department intensify efforts to stem the flow of immigrants and drugs into the US, according to US officials.
In recent months, scores of US Border Patrol agents have been fired upon or pelted with large stones as well as with cloth-covered stones that have been doused with flammable liquid and set ablaze. Since October, agents have been attacked in more than 190 cases, officials said on Thursday.
Most of the attacks occurred along the Mexican border near San Diego, but shootings have also been reported along the border in Texas near the cities of Laredo and McAllen. In the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, there were 778 attacks on agents, up from 374 in the previous fiscal year, Homeland Security Department officials said.
One stone struck an agent in the eye and a gunshot hit an agent in the leg. The officials could not say precisely how many officers had been injured in the attacks, which have originated from both sides of the border.
"This is what we're facing," said David Aguilar, the Border Patrol chief, who played a videotape at a news conference on Thursday that featured a patrol car riddled with bullets and agents scrambling for cover as stones rained down on them. "This is a very serious type of situation."
The homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, said officials planned to continue their efforts at securing the US-Mexico border.
This week, US President George W. Bush asked Congress to increase the Homeland Security Department's budget by nearly 6 percent. The Border Patrol would receive an extra US$459 million to hire 1,500 new agents, bringing the total force to about 14,000.