Column | Decades of Failures Result in Another Border Agent’s Murder

For U.S. Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez’s family and friends, Thanksgiving Day was somber. Martinez and his partner were brutally beaten in Texas’ Big Bend sector. A 36-year-old father, Martinez died from head injuries sustained while being battered with rocks; his partner survived, but is reported to be having trouble remembering. Illegal immigrants, possibly trafficking drugs, are suspected in the attack, and are at large.

Brandon Judd, National Border Patrol Council president, said that while the specifics of the assault are still unfolding, “it would appear to be an ambush.” The FBI is investigating, and has offered a $25,000 reward for information. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a $20,000 reward.

Reports have conflicted on whether or not Martinez was responding to a sensor, one of 14,000 scattered throughout Southwest border patrol sectors that detect activity. But the existing sensors are so antiquated that they can’t differentiate between human and animal presence. Twelve years ago, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General’s report titled “A Review of Remote Surveillance Technology along U.S. Land Borders” found that 62 percent of agents could not determine what set a sensor off or its location. Outdated, inadequate sensors set off a false alarm that cost Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie his life when in 2012 fellow agents mistook him for a smuggler and shot him. Since 2003, 38 agents have died on the job.

I’ve traveled to Arizona and the Naco Border Patrol Sector since renamed in memory of Brian A. Terry, an agent murdered by a drug cartel. The border is a wide-open, dangerous place. I rode with a retired agent through the area, and we passed vast areas without fencing.

For each of the 31 years that I’ve written about immigration, the one constant is border insecurity. Presidents Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama, and their Congresses, have purposed misled Americans about their commitment to border security. In his 2011 El Paso speech near the U.S.-Texas border, President Obama said that the border had never been more secure than during his administration. President Obama then mocked critics who he alleged would only be happy with alligator-filled moats at the border.

More than seven years and billions of wasted dollars later, the border remains wide open to all comers including MS-13 gangsters who entered as unaccompanied minors. In its recent Operation Raging Bull sweep, Immigration and Customs Enforcement discovered that one-third of the 214 arrested have MS-13 affiliations. MS-13 is a transnational criminal organization known for its brutality.

Mostly ignored in Congress’ decades of failure on ending dangerous, and too often deadly illegal immigration, are the ranchers who live on the border. On my trip, I spoke with dozens of people who shared the same story – illegal immigrants squat on their property and terrorize their families; some have shot their pets. Phone calls, letters and emails to their senators received no reply. One rancher told me that his frustration with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) reached such a peak that he traveled to Washington with the hope of talking with him face-to-face. After waiting in McCain’s office lobby for three days without a meeting, the rancher left with a greater, but painful, understanding of how inconsequential ranchers’ plights are to the senator. McCain, in his 35-year congressional career, has consistently voted in favor of more immigration and less security.

Since Martinez’s murder, President Trump has ramped up his demand for a border wall. Eight border wall prototypes have been built. Compared to the last three decades, the prototypes represent rocket-speed progress, but are still a long way from the “big beautiful wall” candidate Trump assured voters he would build.