Border Patrol: from cop to rescue ranger
Troy Newman epitomizes the softer side of the tough-as-nails Border Patrol.Skip to next paragraph
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In the agency's Ford Expedition, he careens down a desert back road, dodging saguaros and mesquite trees, on a rescue mission. He brakes at a clearing where four illegal immigrants have just been found dehydrated and lost near the town of Sells, on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation. One is unconscious.
"Our goal here, first and foremost, is to respond to any emergencies," Agent Newman says, grabbing first-aid equipment and running to the side of an immigrant already surrounded by a tangle of paramedics.
An emergency medical technician with the Border Patrol's Search, Trauma and Rescue team, or BORSTAR, Newman is part of the agency's effort to, quite simply, save the lives of illegal immigrants who try to cross hundreds of miles of desert at a time when the mercury soars to as high as 115 degrees F. This humanitarian face is a response to the rising number of deaths - which topped 400 last year.
This thrust has been partly necessitated by Border Patrol's own strategy, which focuses law-enforcement efforts on border cities - in turn driving immigrants into remote, harsh areas. But the moves to provide more assistance don't have universal approval, with some immigrant advocates saying the approach is just an exercise in politics.
To Tucson Sector Chief David Aguilar, however, the rescue attempts fit hand-in-glove with the Border Patrol's traditional law-enforcement mission. "BORSTAR is a more formalized approach to what we have done historically to respond to needs of people traversing the border," he says.
The BORSTAR program is a work in progress, with about 50 EMTs monitoring 281 miles of border in the Tucson Sector, and a similar force in San Diego.
It's an outgrowth of the 1998 Border Safety Initiative, an Immigration and Naturalization Service policy to "make the border safer for migrants, officers and border residents," according to department documents. This includes hot lines for concerned relatives of immigrants, educating would-be border crossers about the risks, and increasing rescue coordination with Mexican officials.
Under the plan, the Tucson Sector is expanding its fleet of surveillance aircraft to 12 and will add 75 agents to its summertime staff. They'll also improve communication and mapping capabilities.
Border Patrol agents who aren't with BORSTAR are also learning advanced first-aid skills, and all vehicles will be equipped with emergency supplies such as extra water, rehydrating fluids, and medical kits. In addition, the agency continues training new BORSTAR agents sophisticated procedures like rappelling from helicopters into difficult terrain.
Furthermore, both the United States and Mexico have established more surveillance of a "high-risk zone" along the border's most rugged stretches. Patrols in those areas will increase every time the temperature reaches 100 degrees.