The U.S. Border Patrol has opened up a new substation in New Mexico’s Bootheel region, in what officials call the last unguarded region along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo: AP/Russell Contreras)

Border patrol tackles New Mexico’s last frontier

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—It’s an unforgiving and mountainous terrain where Old West outlaws notoriously hid from the law and where Geronimo made his last stand.

In recent years, federal officials say New Mexico‘s isolated Bootheel border region has been plagued by new problems, from drug traffickers breaking into homes to high-speed chases that at times have forced school buses off unpaved county roads, thanks to increased border security in adjacent sections.

But now, for the first time in the history of the region, the Bootheel’s rough landscape has an around-the-clock law enforcement presence. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced Thursday that a new border patrol outpost—also known as a forward operating base—is up and running in the remote region, and it places agents in an isolated area that has long been difficult to patrol.

“Camp Garza,” named after agent Rene Garza, who was killed in 1999, officially opened last month and will allow agents to be quickly deployed into the Animas and Peloncillo Mountains and into known smuggling routes in southeast Arizona, federal officials said. Until now, officials said it took agents at least an hour and a half each way to travel from the nearest border patrol station in Lordsburg, N.M.

“Border Patrol agents working at (Camp Garza) strictly conduct field operations,” said CBP spokesman Douglas T. Mosier. “They perform the full range of line watch operations which can also include deployed ATV and Horse Patrol units that can operate and rotate between camps, as trends dictate in the field.”

Agents call the area just north of the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora one of the last unguarded region along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Because agents will be camped out at the outpost for long assignments, Mosier said the agents will be able to develop detailed intelligence regarding smuggling trends and shift patrols once traffickers change routes.

For years, Bootheel residents have sought a border patrol outpost to stem what they said was increased illegal activity. Residents have said state Highway 80 has become a favorite for Mexican cartel drug runners who manage to navigate out of the Peloncillo Mountains along the Arizona-New Mexico border.

But the project gained momentum after the 2010 murder of a southeastern Arizona rancher.

Still, the outpost faced obstacles after some ranchers complained that the outpost should be placed on a U.S. Bureau of Land Management lot that is only seven miles from the border instead of the site on private land further north.

The controversy sparked petitions and angry town hall meetings where ranchers said the BLM location would serve as a visible deterrent. In January, El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Scott Luck announced that the outpost would be located on the private land location that was “operationally and tactically” better.

Meira Gault, 63, who operates a 20,000 acre ranch just north of the border, said she was going to take a “wait and see” approach to determine how well the outpost was stemming border crime. She and other ranchers are scheduled to tour the outpost.

“People are scared,” Gault said. “I hope it gets better.”


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