July 19, 2008

Border patrol: Former agent recalls service

by Victoria Marie S. Bongat - Telegram Staff Writer
Published July 19, 2008

The illegal immigrant problem is not going away, but there are some ways to deal with it, said Buck Brandemuehl, a Temple resident who is a former head of the U.S. Border Patrol.

“We have allowed ourselves to fall into a quagmire, more or less,” Brandemuehl said, explaining that the millions of illegal immigrants in the United States affect the social structure of the nation. “We just can’t allow millions of people to run around the United States without knowing who they are, where they came from, or for what purpose that they’re here.”

He and others formed the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers (NABFPO) to make suggestions for what can be done for the country at this stage.

“We feel the illegal alien problem is one of the most serious problems facing our country,” Brandemuehl said.

Brandemuehl said the majority of aliens are trying to make better lives and seek employment.

“We want people to come in the front door, and not the back door,” Brandemuehl said.

Brandemuehl described the change with the influx of aliens as the creep effect. In the 1960s, Brandemeuhl said aliens came across the borders in larger numbers. From agriculture jobs in the Southwest, illegals gravitated north into cities.

“We, as a nation, became hooked on cheap labor,” Brandemuehl said. “We established a pervasive attitude more or less towards this.”

Congress passed the Immigration Reform Act in 1986. Brandemuehl said the bill granted amnesty to almost 3 million illegal aliens in the United States who could provide proof of being here for a set amount of time. A second part was made up of employer verification or sanctions, which were never fulfilled.

“As soon as we started enforcing the employer sanctions, then politics got involved,” Brandemuehl said.

The current estimated number of illegal aliens is between 12 and 20 million.

“Last year, when the specter of another proposed amnesty surfaced, then a number of retired Border Patrol agents formed an organization called NAFBPO,” Brandemuehl said. “Our paramount mission was to contribute to the stability and security of the United States.” Brandemuehl said they believe they have some credibility in this topic with their years of experience.

The chain migration factor is something that Brandemuehl wants everyone to keep in mind.

“If you legalize 12 million, or whatever the figure may be, the majority of them will be linked to three or four family members who are outside of the U.S. and will seek reunification with the amnesty subjects,” Brandemuehl said. “So now you’re talking about 30 or 40 million people, and legalization of this magnitude - in one swoop - will change the face of our nation.”

The Border Patrol has changed since Brandemuehl started.

“I entered the Border Patrol in 1956 - a long time ago,” Brandemuehl said. “For the next 30 years, I’ve served in various capacities in Border Patrol - investigations, deportations and inspections.”

His first posting was in Yuma, Ariz. His last position was chief of the Border Patrol in Washington, D.C. from 1980 to 1986, when he retired.

“The primary focus prior to 9-11 was illegal aliens, alien smuggling and narcotics interdiction,” which Brandemuehl explained meant curbing illegal drugs from across the border.

Now, the agency has been moved into the Department of Homeland Security following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

“No one questions that Homeland Security is vital,” said Douglas T. Mosier, director of public affairs in the office of Border Patrol for the El Paso sector. “Everybody understands the importance of what we’re trying to do,” and he tells those who don’t agree to pursue those avenues in Congress.

Mosier said there are 2,600 agents in El Paso.

“We’re in the midst of a recruiting blitz,” Mosier said, explaining that they’re trying to increase from almost 16,000 agents to the 18,000 threshold by end of fiscal year 2008.

When Brandemuehl first entered the service, there were 1,500 agents.

An 8,000-mile stretch of land and water boundaries is covered on a 24-hour basis, Brandemuehl said. With various shifts, days off, illnesses, training and other reasons, less than 4,000 agents are on duty at any given time.

Agents in the field can encounter illegal alien or narcotics smugglers, track people in 120-degree desert heat or sit in Brownsville along the river at midnight with all the mosquitoes, Brandemuehl said.

“It’s a dangerous job,” Brandemuehl said. “More agents have been killed in the line of duty on the Border Patrol than in any other federal law enforcement agencies.”

Border Patrol operations are supplemented with technology. Agents use ground sensors, camera systems, infrared scopes, ground radar and different types of vehicles and aircraft.

“In the past few years, the Border Patrol have been arresting over one million people trying to enter the United States on an annual basis,” Brandemuehl said. “They routinely seize millions of pounds of marijuana and over 15 to 20 tons of cocaine.”

Brandemuehl said the patrol agents encounter women, children, babies, the ill and the infirm.

“The logistics of handling all these different types of people are a nightmare,” Brandemuehl said, explaining that each one is handled in a different way.

Border Patrol agents also encounter a criminal element. Brandemuehl said their identification system identified 122,000 aliens with criminal records last year, including 400 pertaining to sexual assaults.

Alien smugglers are part of that criminal element.

“They are what you call modern-day slave traders,” Brandemuehl said, noting they take money from clientele, deal in human bodies and could care less about the well-being of people, often packing them into vehicles and sealing or jamming them inside any means of transportation.

Brandemuehl described instances where aliens expired from the heat or exposure to fumes while inside vehicles.

Some aliens are brought to the border of the Arizona desert and are given a gallon of water and instructions to walk north until they get picked up at a major highway. With such hot temperatures, they use up the water in hours.

“Distances are from 50 to 100 miles up to that highway,” Brandemuehl said. “Plus, some of the smugglers never intended to pick them up in the first place - they get their money and they run.”

Border security becomes more complicated with the threat of terrorists.

“Alien smuggling trade is the sea in which terrorists and drug smugglers can swim,” Brandemuehl said. “We use that analogy because the modus operandi of alien smugglers and narcotics smugglers can also be used by terrorists.”

In the 22 years since his retirement, Brandemuehl has done consulting work. He started a small business where he developed and manufactured ground sensor systems for the law enforcement and military.

When it was time for Brandemuehl to retire in 1986, he and his wife found a school for their daughter and a church family in Temple.

“Temple is a great, centrally located, progressive city,” Brandemuehl said. “We have enjoyed it here immensely.”


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