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Are Mexican drug cartels escalating attacks against US border officials?

Recent reports suggest that assaults on US officials on the Mexico border may have tripled since 2004, but a look at these 'attacks' shows that the danger they pose may be exaggerated.

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However, the vast majority of these “clashes" are instances of unarmed civilians throwing rocks, sticks, and bottles at border agents, who frequently fire their weapons in retaliation. In fact, this has long been a vexing diplomatic issue between the US and Mexico, and the latter country has repeatedly accused US agents of using excessive force.

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The most recent such incident occurred in Tijuana on June 21, when three men attempted to jump the border fence which separates the city from San Diego. When US law enforcement officials captured one of them, his associates began to throw rocks and other projectiles at them, according to the agents. In response, a Border Patrol agent shot one of the men in the head. As CNN reports, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has condemned the killing, and asked the United States to punish the officer responsible.

Although McCraw’s remarks are sure to fuel fears of “spillover violence” and trigger more calls for increased security at the border, it’s worth pointing out that the incidence of attacks is still relatively low, considering the number of Border Patrol agents along the border. As an internal Customs and Border Protection study obtained by the Associated Press last year revealed, only three percent of Border Patrol officers were assaulted in 2009, compared with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff's deputies assaulted nationwide during the same period.

--- Geoffrey Ramsey is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.

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