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Border Patrol & Mexican Police Unleash First-Ever Joint Attack on Border Violence, Crime

The Border Patrol and Mexican police are training together and sharing intelligence for the first time. The goal: a joint attack on cross-border flows of drugs, guns, and migrants.

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As they drove, the men traded stories about the dangers of the border. Border Patrol supervisor Juventino Pacheco, who works as a liaison to Mexican law enforcement, told of a recent shooting attack in Nogales, Mexico, on a municipal police commander and his family. The commander suffered moderate wounds. A bullet grazed the finger of his 8-year-old son. The commander was hospitalized in Arizona for his safety, and Border Patrol agents stationed at the hospital described to Pacheco the boy's remarkable reaction.

“His family was traumatized, his big sisters were crying, but the boy was totally calm,” Pacheco said. “Cold. And he knew exactly what happened. He said: 'The bad guys shot at me, but it only hit my finger.’ He was something.”

García shook his head and leaned forward to pat Treviño on the shoulder.

“We better take care of that kid, chief,” García chuckled. “He's got potential. Make sure he turns out right and doesn’t join the bad guys.”

The joint U.S.-Mexican operations got under way here when a detachment of Mexican federal police arrived in Sonora about two months ago. They began communicating daily with the Americans and responded to security threats, disrupting smugglers’ hilltop lookouts and breaking up rock-throwing gangs who frequently clash with U.S. agents in melees that have resulted in injuries, shootings and diplomatic tensions.

“There has been a decrease in rockings after their deployment,” said Al White, the Border Patrol agent-in-charge in Nogales.

The Mexican forces also have developed new southern barriers to smuggling drugs and people. Treviño has deployed five roving checkpoints in Sonora that have pushed marijuana traffickers west from traditional land routes to more complicated maritime smuggling on the Sea of Cortez, officials say.

The Border Patrol will send two liaison agents to Treviño’s headquarters in Hermosillo; two Mexican officers will work at the Border Patrol station in Nogales.

“The coordination will make our pursuits more flexible so we can stop criminals from ducking back and forth across the border,” Treviño told his U.S. counterparts, adding that his agency is “ready to seal the border to put an end to this organized crime.”

However, Treviño said that while his officers aggressively pursue smugglers and arrest non-Mexican migrants, they do not intend to interfere with Mexicans crossing north illegally if there is no evidence of other criminal activity. The policy is dictated by longtime Mexican political sensitivity and public opinion, experts say.

Nonetheless, Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan praised the Arizona-Sonora model as part of an enforcement “sea change” resulting from close government cooperation and the increasing frequency of drug traffickers who also smuggle people.

“Drug smuggling organizations have diversified their portfolio,” he said in an interview. “As organized crime has developed its footprint, we have to do so as well and combat all kinds of trafficking.”

Former U.S. immigration commissioner Doris Meissner said Mexico’s new attitude toward border enforcement is a result of Calderón’s focus on public safety, a post-9/11 awareness of terror threats and the fading of the sometimes strident Mexican nationalism of the past.

Meissner participated in a conference last year at which former Mexican and U.S. officials, academics and other experts proposed reforms including the creation of a Mexican force that would mirror the functions of the U.S. Border Patrol – a source of inspiration for the Arizona experiment.

“The Mexican border force idea was adopted without debate,” recalled Meissner, who is now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “I was surprised that there was little objection from Mexicans. I think everyone realizes that the countries are linked. … The conversation kind of had a common sense feel to it.”