Secure the border with horses

If thousands of additional Border Patrol agents are going to be stationed in Arizona, serious attention needs to be paid to where are they deployed and what will they be doing.

Many border area residents have been demanding more Border Patrol agents and even the National Guard be stationed at the border.

In the midst of highly publicized efforts to expand the Border Patrol check point on Interstate 19 into a $27 million permanent facility (temporarily on hold), and millions spent on the electronic towers around Arivaca that don’t work, there is a quiet initiative going on that does work.


The Border Patrol has been establishing what are called “Forward Observation Bases” or FOBs along the border. There are several of them on the border around Nogales.

Border Patrol agents are stationed 24/7 at the FOBs and operate from the bases to patrol the border, instead of driving around the countryside from their offices in Tucson or Nogales.

The FOBs have successfully throttled illegal entry in the surrounding area according to area ranchers.

An interesting issue about the use of an FOB. The areas west of Nogales are extremely rugged, and the effort to stop illegal entry and smuggling can’t be done with vehicles because there are few roads in the area.

There is what is called the “fence line trial” running along the border which cowboys use. Most of the area is only accessible by horseback.

Thus the Border Patrol is now using horse mounted agents to patrol the area. And this works.

With all the publicity about the Secure Border Initiative and the hugely expensive Boeing electronic towers, it is ironic that a 19th century technology is still one of the best solutions to illegal entry and smuggling. Horseback riders.

There are interesting logistical problems in setting up an FOB, such as getting water for the horses. Area ranchers have cooperated and are willing to assist.

If you go down California Gulch, you’ll find that rancher has installed water tanks for livestock and even drinking fountains down the canyon. At least illegal entrants won’t die of thirst. No problem providing water for Border Patrol horses there.

Electronic towers and permanent Interstate check points draw a lot of funding and attention, whereas buying more horses probably doesn’t get the attention of border security lobbyists like Boeing.

But the Forward Observation Base strategy works. What we need are a lot more of them than are currently planned.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has written to President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to urge that they put more FOBs in place on the border.

The new Border Patrol sector chief, Victor Manjarrez, said at a recent public meeting that he is a big believer in the effectiveness of Forward Observation Bases and that he plans to establish more of them.

As part of their 18 point plant to improve border security, the Arizona Cattle Growers Association proposed that the Border Patrol establish “permanent Forward Operating Bases (FOB) immediately adjacent to the U.S. border with Mexico. (Suggesting at least one FOB every 12 miles).

Both of New Mexico’s US Senators also have asked that a Forward Observation Base be established in the bootheel of New Mexico.

Continuing the Border Patrol’s current approach of “layered response” will fail. Scattering Border Patrol agents all over the southern half of the state leaves the border open for illegal entry and drug smuggling.

Giffords, Kirkpatrick, McCain and Kyl should hold some hearings on what is going on down here and put BP brass on the hot seat for their current strategy that leaves the border wide open.

They should invite border area residents and ranchers to testify what they experience every day along the border.

They should force the BP to disclose what happens when people call in to report illegal activity in the border region and what (if any) BP response there was.

They should show on a map where at any given moment the existing 3,000 BP agents are located in the state.

The Border Patrol is highly visible away from the border. They day doesn’t go by where a BP agent cruises by my house looking for illegal aliens. I live 20 miles from the border.

Drive through the I-19 checkpoint on Interstate 19 at Tubac, and you see sometimes 20 BP agents standing around.

Drive down close to the border, and outside of the zone where an FOB is located you don’t see many BP agents.

Take a look at the BP parking lot on Valencia by the airport.

The border is broken in large part do to the failed strategy of the Border Patrol of  driving around roads and streets all over Southern Arizona, and not focusing on watching the border itself.

Another 3,000 BP agents all stationed at the border could seriously stop the flow of people and drugs across the border. But that will only happen if Congress demands more FOBs on the border.


About Hugh Holub

Attorney and writer.
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