Border agents become targets
Federal officials have warned U.S. Border Patrol agents that they could be the targets of assassins hired by immigrant smugglers, according to a confidential memo obtained by the San Bernardino County Sun newspaper.
"Unidentified Mexican alien smugglers are angry about the increased security along the U.S./Mexico border and have agreed that the best way to deal with U.S. Border Patrol agents is to hire a group of contract killers," the Department of Homeland Security said in a Dec. 21 officer safety alert.
The alert states that the smugglers intend to bring members of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang -- known as MS-13 -- into the country to perform the killings, The Sun reported Tuesday.
Federal officials consider MS-13, with an estimated 30,000 members in 33 states, to be one of the most dangerous gangs in the country. It was formed in Los Angeles by immigrants from El Salvador.
The safety alert was based on an FBI report. An FBI spokes-man in Washington said he could not comment.
Michael Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said he could not comment directly on the confidential memo but recalled that agents' lives have been threatened before.
"It's no surprise that these smugglers, these criminals, would be threatening our agents," Friel said. "And that would be a huge mistake on their part if they try."
On Tuesday, the agency issued a statement saying it takes seriously the risks of securing America's borders.
"Border Patrol agents and CBP officers are prepared to respond appropriately to threats either against the country or themselves," the statement said. "Border Patrol agents and CBP officers have received various types of threats in the past and have worked diligently with their law-enforcement partners to address these threats. ... The difficult and sometimes hazardous duty of securing our borders is CBPs first and foremost responsibility."
Border Patrol officials say assaults on agents increased significantly during the past year.
On Dec. 30, in an incident that strained U.S.-Mexican relations, an agent shot and killed an 18-year-old man who allegedly threw a large rock at him near the wall separating Tijuana and San Diego.
Last week, agents in Texas reported two incidents in which they were shot at from the Mexican side of the border.
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a 6,500-member union, said the DHS alert proves agents' lives often are at risk.
"MS-13 has shown that its members have very little regard for human life," he said. "Some of the atrocities they have committed are truly unspeakable, and it worries me to know that our agents on the line are now the targets."