National Guard troops ready to man local ports of entry

March 16, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Starting Monday, a full unit of National Guard troops will begin working at all three Imperial County ports of entry: downtown Calexico, Calexico East and Andrade.

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services Calexico Ports Director Michael Freeman said for security reasons he wasn't allowed to say exactly how many would guardsmen be stationed where.

He did say the troopers will "take away some of the duties (INS inspectors) have had since Sept. 11."

That means troopers will help lighten the load of inspectors who have to search bags of each pedestrian border-crosser and check vehicles that come through the ports.


For the past week, various groups of troopers have received on-the-job training.

Freeman said, "The main crux of their training is baggage screening, uses of the metal detector and how to search through baggage."

In addition, the troopers are working in primary inspection areas with a seasoned INS inspector as they learn how to ask motorists to open vehicle hoods and trunks to check for contraband.

Plus, the troopers are learning the culture of the Imperial Valley. While a number are local National Guardsmen who applied to work the border detail, the majority are from out of state.

"They're learning the culture, local customs. They're learning how to speak Spanish," he said.

During their training phase, savvy border-crossers have noticed that INS inspectors have had to shepherd the troopers through the difficult task of guarding a border. One border-crosser said a trooper rapping on the side of a car thought she had found something.

An INS inspector told her the sound was normal and the motorist was allowed to proceed.

Freeman said it is possible the inexperienced unit of troopers could actually make wait-times at the border longer.

"They're not going to be performing at a top level as someone who has been there for months," he said.

He hopes the longer wait times are "minimal."

By having the troopers at the port it will allow Freeman to "open all the traffic lanes at a consistent basis."

He hopes that speeds the waits for some.

In a related matter, the assistant deputy director of the Homeland Security office, Brian Peterman, stopped at the downtown Calexico port for an hour Thursday.

Freeman led him on a tour and the two talked about the unique challenges faced by the border inspectors.

"We talked about the stepped-up measures that have been put in place since Sept. 11," Freeman said.

Peterman asked Freeman, "What sort of fraud do you get here?"

Freeman told Peterman the Calexico ports get mainly document fraud.

For Peterman, the stop in Calexico was just one in a day-long tour of the Southwest border.

"He started off the day in San Ysidro, then the El Centro Border Patrol station, then Calexico, then to Tucson," Freeman said.

Peterman took a helicopter from Calexico to Tucson to finish his day.

Freeman said of the meeting, "This was good. It's someone who will look at our issues. One thing I was really impressed with, Calexico being one of the last places to visit … he was right on time. He said he would be here at 4:15 and he was. At 5:15 he was on his way."

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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