Motorists traveling through the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint at Temecula are well aware of law enforcement activity when officers are noticeably screening each and every vehicle and its occupants, waving some through and detaining others. But what about when the checkpoint appears to be “closed,” no traffic line-up, and officers not visible? What’s going on?
“That is when motorists are being watched even more,” explained Lee Bejar, senior patrol agent, border community liaison agent. “We have different types of units and agents working.”
That scenario sums up the changes Bejar has seen over his 25 years of service with the government agency.
“We are extremely intelligence-driven now,” said Bejar. “People can’t base what we are doing on the number of uniformed agents that are visible at any given time.”
Behar works out of the agency’s Murrieta office which staffs the Temecula checkpoint on Interstate 15 at the San Diego/Riverside county line. The Temecula checkpoint/Murrieta office is one of eight locations for the U.S. Border Patrol/Homeland Security’s San Diego Sector. This sector is responsible for 60 miles of linear border, 114 miles of coastline, and 7,000 square miles of inland territory, making it a very diverse geographical territory. And it just so happens that this region’s operation is more successful than ever.
“We are very successful in our region,” said Bejar. “We are huge on inter-agency work and sharing intelligence.”
In 2012, border agents in the San Diego sector apprehended 26,470 individuals.
Of those, 25,408 were from Mexico. The remaining 1,062 were from various other countries.
The number of Border Patrol agents that suffered assaults during the course of their job in 2012 was 133.
The confiscation of drugs by this agency has been significant. From October 2011 to August 2012, agents seized some 48,256 lbs of marijuana, 1,238.57 lbs of cocaine, 1,228.72 lbs of methamphetamine, and 1,948.71 ounces of heroin.
“If we take criminals and their drugs off the street, as a whole we make our nation safer,” said Bejar, who said the agency’s intelligence work is paying off.
“We have gone from being a resource-based agency to a risk-based one,” said Bejar. “We want to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat targeted criminal threats.”
Bejar said the Border Patrol is achieving that by collecting information that allows agents to look for certain things.
“What we do is not by coincidence; it’s very intelligence-driven,” he explained. “There are things that are very high on our priority list.”
The success experienced by this agency working “smarter” is validated by the statistics for the San Diego region.
Four years ago, in 2008, the number of individuals apprehended by border agents numbered 162,390. The number of people rescued from treacherous situations while trying to enter the country amounted to 110. Assaults to agents numbered 377 that year. In 2008, only one tunnel was discovered in the San Diego region being used by illegals.
In the past four years, agents have found 22 more tunnels under the Mexican border, and worked effectively to reduce opportunities for individuals to make their way into the United States illegally, hence the reason apprehension numbers dropped by 135,920 from 2008 to 2012.
“The reason that apprehension numbers are down is because we are protecting our borders; our borders are more secure now,” said Bejar. “When you have less people getting through, you have a lower number of apprehensions; when more get through, you have more apprehensions.”
In implementing some of their maneuvers, agents can and do use canine officers.
“Canines are a great resource for our agency,” said Bejar. “They are used primarily for tracking and sniffing out contraband.” A limited number are qualified to locate humans and the Border Patrol provides those, when requested by the government, to sites of national catastrophes like hurricanes, earthquakes, and more.
Looking toward 2013, Behar said the Border Patrol will continue to be “very proactive about seeking out threats” and agents will do that by developing information and “using increased technology to attack those threats.”
“Our goal is to continue to work more and more efficiently,” said Behar. “We care about our communities. Our mission is to protect America, to prevent dangerous people and dangerous capabilities from entering the United States.”
In his 25 years of service, Bejar said he has seen the Border Patrol take great strides in so far as volume of personnel, improvements in the agency’s infrastructure, and continually improving technology.
“Everything has all been for the better,” he said.
To report suspicious activity in the greater Fallbrook or Temecula area, call the U.S. Border Patrol Murrieta office at (951) 816-3031.