Federal authorities are escalating their manhunt to find the remaining suspect in a deadly firefight between U.S. Border Patrol agents and bandits near the Mexican border. Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano decried the gun battle Tuesday that left one officer dead as an “unconscionable act of violence.”
The shootout prompted Napolitano to move up a planned visit to Arizona. She reportedly will meet on Thursday with border patrol officers in Nogales near the U.S.-Mexican border.
The deadly fusillade is “a stark reminder of the very real dangers our men and women on the front lines confront every day as they protect our communities and the American people,” Napolitano said Wednesday.
The firefight broke out after Border Patrol officer Brian A. Terry, 40, and three of his colleagues received intelligence indicating that several bandits were headed their way, sources tell Newsmax.
The five suspects opened fire when the Border Patrol officers tried to apprehend them at about 11 p.m. Tuesday.
Terry, a former U.S. military member and a three-year veteran of the Border Patrol, was wounded in the exchange of gunfire. He died of his wounds early Wednesday morning.
Four suspects were arrested, one of whom was wounded. Police are searching for a fifth bandit also believed to have been involved in the deadly shootout.
The bandit gangs, which sources say are composed in most cases of Mexican nationals, rob illegal immigrants after they cross the border because they know the victims will not be able to report the crimes to authorities.
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council union representing about 17,000 border guards and support staff, rejected the administration’s assertion that border security has improved substantially.
“There are still numbers of people who make that journey, and enough of them are getting by us at the border that we have bandits encouraged to set up shop, deep into the United States, trying to rip those people off,” Bonner tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview. “So you tell me: Is our border secure?”
The violence on the border appears to be growing despite the weak U.S. job market that has reduced the number of illegals crossing the border. “I think that the violence is definitely spreading,” Bonner says.
Bonner tells Newsmax that the heavily armed bandits and drug smugglers increasingly appear to have no compunction about opening up on uniformed officers.
“The one difference that we’re seeing now is much more of a willingness among the criminal element to go toe-to-toe with law enforcement and engage in shoot outs,” Bonner tells Newsmax. “They just don’t seem to have any fear of consequences.”
Bonner said the visit by Napolitano, who had planned to come to the border area this week anyway but is now leaving a day early, appears at least partly political.
“I think they’re scrambling right now to figure out a way to spin this so that it doesn’t derail their plans to hoodwink the American people into supporting another amnesty,” he says. “Granted, the DREAM Act isn’t the massive amnesty that they want, but it’s a foot in the door for them.”
Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Alan Bersin appeared on local television vowing “to do everything possible to bring to justice those responsible for this despicable act.”
Bonner says Terry’s fellow officers understand the risks that they face each day.
“The first thought beyond the initial sorrow is the feeling for mortality: There but for the grace of God, that could have been me out there,” Bonner tells Newsmax. “Every time you put the uniform on, you know there’s a chance you may not come home.
“Things like this just serve as a grim reminder that’s not just rhetoric, it’s the reality of being a police officer,” Bonner adds.
Terry is the 111th Border Patrol officer to die in the line of duty. It was the first fatal shooting involving one of the agents since July 2009, when officer Robert Rosas, 30, was killed near Campo, Calif.
In May, President Barack Obama announced the deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to the border region to help keep the peace there.
Asked what further steps the administration should take to enhance border security, Bonner said: “If they’re really sincere about securing the borders, the most important step they could take is to crack down on employers of illegal aliens. That’s the major draw.”
He said Terry’s slaying “wouldn’t have happened, if that were the case, because people wouldn’t be coming across in search of employment, and the bandits would have no victims.”
Bonner added: “Instead of trying to convince the Congress to pass the DREAM Act, this administration should be trying to convince Congress to pass meaningful reforms in the employment verification and sanction system,” he said.
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