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[pct-l] USFS Border program halted
- Subject: [pct-l] USFS Border program halted
- From: Brick Robbins <brick%40ix%2Enetcom%2Ecom>
- Date: Mon, 29 Dec 1997 09:24:27 -0800
From a copyrighted article in the San Diego Union Tribune
"Demise of program may cost at border"
Intense patrols end in national forest
By J. Harry Jones
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
In the summer of 1995, it seemed like a good, strong name.
The Chargers were coming off a Super Bowl appearance, thanks in large part
to the play of their linebackers.
But the Chargers' fortunes have sunk, and Operation Linebacker is no more.
The federal government has pulled the plug on the program, saying that the
20 U.S. Forest Service officers who have been very successful in slowing
the flow of illegal immigration through the rugged Cleveland National
Forest must be reassigned.
Linebacker was begun two years ago to address the problems that the U.S.
Border Patrol's Operation Gatekeeper had pushed into forest lands.
Gatekeeper -- which flooded the border with agents between the ocean and
Otay Mountain -- has all but stopped illegal immigration in that area,
instead forcing immigrants to cross into the country farther east.
The problem was that farther east translated to the national forest.
The forest service initially put two officers in the area south of
Interstate 8 to monitor crossing activity. What they saw were thousands of
immigrants using trails to push north.
The immigrants, led by smugglers, would cross in groups as small as 10 and
as large as 100. The officers also saw a large amount of drug smuggling.
Drivers seeking to avoid new Border Patrol checkpoints on state Route 94
and Interstate 8 were using backcountry trails through the forest.
Then, in 1996, at the direction of President Clinton, 20 more forest
service officers from all over the country were reassigned to Southern
The result was nothing less than remarkable.
Often working in covert teams, sometimes camping out for weeks at a time in
the wilderness, the officers:
*Apprehended more than 18,000 immigrants or drug smugglers.
* Seized more than 2,500 pounds of marijuana and narcotics.
* Found 45 bodies, almost all of them of border crossers who had died from
exposure to the elements.
* Removed 18 tons of trash that had been left by immigrants on forest lands.
* Found signs of more than 1,300 campfires, many of which were still
burning and could have caused brush fires had they not been doused.
But on Dec. 20, Congress ordered Linebacker's demise, saying the 20
officers were needed in their original national forests.
"Now I'm back to two people," said Tommy La Nier, special agent in charge
of the Southern California operation for the Forest Service.
La Nier said he is not sure what will happen now. But he has an idea.
Gatekeeper is still in full operation, and immigrants are still crossing
"It's not going to take (immigrants) long to figure out we're not there
anymore," La Nier said. "The traditional push comes right after the new
year. We'll be faced with a decision then."
Operation Linebacker has been met with overwhelming support by people who
live in or near the forest south of I-8.
"They loved us," La Nier said.
Dozens have written letters expressing their disappointment with the
decision to remove the officers.
Charlotte Frye has lived on a 1,000-acre ranch near Barrett Lake all her
life. She said immigration traffic increased so much a couple of years ago
that, on average, 100 people would cross her family's property each day.
The forest service law enforcers made a huge difference, Frye said, mainly
because they were able to do things that Border Patrol agents could not.
"They knew how to work in the area," she said. "They were familiar with
working in the dark and working in the kind of terrain we have here. The
Border Patrol is made up mainly of city people. They know how to patrol the
roads but aren't much good out here."
San Diego, CA
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