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Patrols unevenly spread along U.S.-Mexico border

SAN ANTONIO — Despite efforts to add Border Patrol agents to areas where immigrant traffic is high and drug violence is flaring, officers assigned to the 2,000-mile boundary with Mexico are bunched up near the California coast.

An Associated Press analysis of Border Patrol staffing shows that the San Diego sector, with the shortest section of border and fences covering half the boundary, has four times the number of agents per mile that West Texas has and three times as many as most of Arizona.

That is the case even though the Tucson sector in Arizona has been the busiest spot for illegal crossings for years and El Paso sits next to a Mexican city that has seen a surge in drug-cartel violence.

Border Patrol officials defend the staffing levels, saying San Diego's transportation routes and year-round balmy weather make it an attractive spot for smugglers.

Others suggest, however, that members of Congress who most embrace the agency's push are rewarded with more agents — a notion Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner rejected Wednesday.

There are roughly 15,000 agents, up from 9,500 in 2004, along the southern border. But San Diego's 60-mile sector of border has 37 agents per mile, compared with 11 for most of Arizona and nine for the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas, based on head counts given to the AP in July.

The San Diego sector is already heavily reinforced: Two-thirds of the border is blocked by fences or vehicle barriers. The most populous part of the boundary has nearly 10 miles of double-layer fences with stadium lights.

The border in Arizona and Texas is more wide open and more rural in many places, which can make it harder to guard. It also includes major interstates and sizable population centers where recent arrivals can easily blend in.

Border incursion

Four Mexican soldiers crossed into a remote area of Arizona and briefly held a U.S. Border Patrol agent at gunpoint before realizing where they were and returning to Mexico, U.S. authorities said. Border Patrol spokeswoman Dove Crawford said the incident Sunday on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation was in an area where the border likely was marked only with barbed wire. The soldiers lowered their weapons when the agent convinced them who he was and where they were.

>>Fast facts

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Patrols unevenly spread along U.S.-Mexico border 08/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:39pm]
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