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48 Hours on the Border
For two days in July, Administrative Office (AO) Director Jim Duff and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) Director John F. Clark visited the Southwest border to learn more about the crisis in this area. Here's what they found.
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The Southwest border is the principal arrival zone for most illegal drugs smuggled into the United States. The fence was built to be a deterrent to this traffic and to illegal immigration.
Following the swearing-in of new Court Security Officers in Tucson by Director Clark, Director Duff welcomed the officers. The CSOs will participate in a pilot project in which the U.S. Marshals Service assumes perimeter security functions at a limited number of courthouses.
From this room in the Nogales Border Patrol Station, officers monitor border activity by radio and surveillance cameras.
The challenges facing the District of Arizona, were discussed by (L to R) Clerk of Court Richard Weare, Judge Raner Collins, USMS Director John Clark, Chief Judge John Roll, and AO Director Jim Duff.
One of the flood control tunnels under Nogales that has been fortified against smugglers.
A courtroom in the Evo A. DeConcini United States Courthouse, in Tucson, Arizona, was converted to a processing center for detainees.
The flight to El Paso takes the group over tough terrain along the Southwest border.
At checkpoints along the border, trucks with portable x-ray machines detect voids that may be filled with narcotics or people—or explosives.
In El Paso, the Mexican border is only blocks from the U.S. courthouse.
AO Director Jim Duff; Ross Eisenman, Assistant Director, AO Office of Facilities and Security; USMS Director John Clark; Judge Frank Montalvo (W.D. Tex.); Judge Kathleen Cardone (W.D. Tex.) and Judge David Briones (W.D. Tex.) talk in the El Paso courthouse.
Tuesday, July 28
AO Director Duff departs Washington, DC for Tucson, where USMS Director Clark and his team will join him. There have been significant increases in the workload of the five judicial districts adjacent to the border with Mexico, along with reports of border violence and its possible implications for the security of judges. This visit is to see the situation firsthand.
Wednesday, July 29
0900 hrs.—Directors Duff and Clark get their first briefing at the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Over the last six months, there were 300,000 apprehensions in
the Tucson border sector, where 1.2 million pounds of marijuana were seized. Chief Judge John M. Roll (D. Ariz.) says that, in that time, the district's felony cases have increased 42 percent. Eighty percent of its cases are drug and immigration related. At a high point in its caseload, the court processed 323 detainees in a single day. The court facility is sized to handle no more than 120 detainees in a day. To handle the overload, a main courtroom has been converted to a processing center.
Detention here costs the government $13-14 million a month. The USMS reports that prisoner detention is limited by the court's current facilities, available bed space, and inadequate manpower. A new courthouse at Yuma is desperately needed.
1100 hrs.—On to the headquarters of the U.S. Border Patrol, Tucson Sector, for a briefing on current operations along the Southwest border. From here, Border Patrol agents cover nearly two-thirds of Arizona. The Southwest border is the principal arrival zone for most illegal drugs smuggled into the United States.
1330-1530 hrs.—From Tucson, it's a drive out to the Nogales area for a tour of a Border Patrol station that sits on the border with Mexico. One of several stations along the border, this is a hub of activity with a processing center, evidence vault, and the continual monitoring of border activity by radio and surveillance cameras.
1530-1630 hrs.—This is the group's first close-up look at the border fence. Border Patrol officers say illegal border traffic is deterred by stepped-up patrols and high-tech detection devices—but especially by the fence.
To circumvent the fence, drug dealers dig tunnels into the United States that range from primitive side tunnels off of sewer and storm drains to well-lighted and ventilated tunnels large enough to move large quantities of drugs and people. The United States works with Mexico to identify the endpoints of tunnels, and destroy them.
1630 hrs.—At the Interstate 19 Checkpoint the Border Patrol's canine units work the long lanes of cars and trucks coming into the United States, sniffing out contraband. A truck with a portable x-ray machine, driven up beside a vehicle, detects voids that may be filled with narcotics, or people—or explosives. Part of the mission here is to detect and deter terrorists and terrorist-type contraband.
Along portions of the border, the Border Patrol follows a zero tolerance initiative called Operation Streamline, where the goal is to prosecute 100 percent of apprehensions.
1900 hrs.—It's been a long day. The Tucson visit vividly demonstrates how a relatively new U.S. courthouse facility is inadequate to handle the volume of detainees. The expected appointment of additional assistant U.S. attorneys here will increase prosecutions—and the federal caseload.
Thursday, July 30
0700 hrs.—This morning, it's an early flight to El Paso, Texas, via a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol helicopter. Flying south from Tucson to Nogales, then east along the border to El Paso, gives the group its first look at the harsh terrain covered by patrols.
1000 hrs.—Monument Three. White stone monuments mark where the Rio Grande River stops and the land border continues between the United States and Mexico, a nearly 2,000 mile land border that must be patrolled. Dotting the area are what the Border Patrol calls forward operating bases, camps literally in the middle of the desert, out of which agents may operate for a few days or even weeks as part of a defensive and apprehension strategy. Fast activation is key here and the camps put agents in high-traffic areas.
1200 hrs.—Judge Kathleen Cardone and Judge Frank Montalvo in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas are among the federal judges who meet with the group in the El Paso courthouse, just blocks from the Mexican border. Judges here often will empanel anonymous juries, because many jurors have family members in Mexico who may face retaliation or intimidation. Criminal prosecutions in the district are growing even though Border Patrol apprehensions are down. This year the district anticipates it will handle 3,800 criminal cases, compared to 400 in 1994.
1500 hrs.—The group tours the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). This is a consolidated Department of Justice intelligence gathering facility. Several months ago, EPIC and the USMS, briefed judges from the five border judicial districts who were concerned about the increasing violence across the border in Mexico. Drug cartel violence has spilled over into the border states, and there are serious implications for U.S. judicial security. The Judiciary, including the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Security, and the USMS are working to address these issues and safeguard judges and their families, and significant steps have been taken toward this goal. The USMS is taking additional action as well.
2030 hrs.—End of the trip. Tomorrow it's back to Washington, DC. It has been an eye-opening experience seeing what the federal courts, the USMS, and the Border Patrol deal with on a daily basis. The federal courts here face significant and immediate challenges. But they share workload challenges with districts across the country. The weighted filings per judgeship in the Eastern District of California, the Eastern District of Louisiana, and the Middle District of Florida are over twice the national average of 472. All these courts are diligently working to find mechanisms within the Judiciary that will allow them to handle their workload issues until a more permanent solution comes from Congress, perhaps in the form of new judgeships, facilities, and resources.