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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Drug War

Agents Patrol Along Border Flash Point

April 1, 2010 - 9:59 PM | by: Joshua Rhett Miller

While driving along the Rio Grande River, near the Texas border town of Fort Hancock, Border Patrol Agent Joe Romero spots fresh footprints in the muddy banks. His eyes immediately widen.

“It’s hard to get bored doing this,” Romero says. “If you’re bored, it’s ’cause you’re not looking. There’s always something to learn out here.”

For the past four years, Romero has been one of 2,600 U.S. Border Patrol agents scouring the 125,000-square mile El Paso sector, extending from Fort Hancock to the New Mexico-Arizona state line, for drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.

During that span, Romero said he’s seen the number of apprehended individuals in his “zone” decrease tenfold, from roughly 122,000 in fiscal year 2006 to roughly 15,000 last year. And while it may seem counterintuitive, Romero says that’s a good thing.

“When you’ve got fewer people to deal with, those that do try to come across, your success rate is going to increase because you have more manpower,” he said. “Plus, it let’s us know we’re being more effective in the deterrence mentality.”

But escalating violence in El Porvenir, a Mexican town just four miles from Fort Hancock, has some residents in the Texas town worried that drug cartel-related violence may soon spill over into their backyard.

And while Romero is quick to point out that no bloodshed has occurred in Fort Hancock thus far, and that residents there should feel safe, the potential for violence along the smuggling corridor is real, he said.

“Has it happened? Not yet,” Romero said. “Is it a threat? Obviously.” will examine the ongoing efforts to patrol the border in the next few days, focusing on the town of Fort Hancock, where at least 30 residents from El Porvenir have asked for political asylum.

Romero will also provide more details from his 10-hour patrol shifts, offering the latest ways he has seen illegal immigrants try to cross the border and how he can literally smell if he’s missed someone.

“There’s always somebody out there who can do something better and in a more creative way than you can,” said Romero, referring to drug mules or illegal aliens. “It’s serious business. There’s something to learn out here everyday. If you’re not learning, you’re not looking.”

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