For years, the U.S. government has steadily increased the amount of money it spends and resources it devotes to prevent undocumented migrants from entering our country illegally through our southern border. And, for years, these increased efforts have yielded mixed results. Led by El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Victor M. Manjarrez, Jr., three Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas – Assistant Patrol Agent in Charge Salvador Zamora and Supervisory Border Patrol Agents Ben Rodriguez and Victor Trujillo – were examining ways to prevent illegal crossings and came to the conclusion that the problem was less about the level of resources – although resources are important – and more about their approach to solving the problem.
For too long the agency had been reactive, responding to aliens after they attempt to enter our country illegally. They believed the Border Patrol had to become more proactive. That meant addressing the problem at its source, in Mexico. As a result, these agents reached out to Mexican law enforcement officials, and they launched Operation Lifeguard, an unprecedented bilateral partnership that has led to improvements in the security of the border and the quality of life in the area.
In addition to marking a strategic shift, Operation Lifeguard was a direct response to increased levels of alien and drug smuggling and violence against aliens and Border Patrol Agents in the El Paso corridor. Of particular concern was a dangerous canal that had claimed the lives of several undocumented migrants who unsuccessfully attempted to cross it.
Considering the conditions on the ground, the alliance made sense for both countries. For the United States, the joint operation enlisted Mexican authorities to patrol the border, round up aliens and narcotics smugglers, and then prosecute and incarcerate them, providing additional obstacles to deter and prevent the illegal entry of aliens and drug smugglers along the border. For Mexico, it provided an opportunity to prevent serious injury, and even death, to unsuspecting migrants attempting to illegally enter the United States. It also offered a chance to seek out criminal operatives who prey on the desperation of undocumented migrants.
Operation Lifeguard’s principal activity is coordinated, regular, but random patrols along the border. These sweeps have apprehended many individuals before they try to cross the border. In the process, they have created a deterrent for others. In addition to the planned patrols, Border Patrol officials are constantly monitoring the area, and when they see signs of suspicious activity, they alert the El Paso Sector Border Patrol International Liaison Unit. The Liaison Unit contacts Mexican officials to request assistance, thereby mobilizing patrol teams on both sides of the border.
Border Patrol officials report that Operation Lifeguard has reduced the amount of undocumented migrant crossings and drug smuggling into our country through this corridor. And since these patrols began in October 2007, no undocumented migrants have drowned while trying to cross the canal along the border.
Beyond the short-term benefits of this U.S.-Mexico collaboration, it is possible that Chief Manjarrez, APAIC Zamora, SBPA Rodriguez and SBPA Trujillo have created a template for deterring illegal immigration that will have long-term implications for border security. They are proving that cooperative efforts to secure the U.S.-Mexico border can work and these efforts are mutually beneficial for both countries.