From drug smuggling to illegal immigration, the border war is constantly making headlines. But we don't often hear from those who risk their lives every day to patrol it.
Border Patrol is divided into different sectors. The Big Bend Sector covers 510 miles of the Mexican border and reaches up through Lubbock and Amarillo into Oklahoma. KCBD traveled hundreds of miles and spent three days with Big Bend agents for a rare look at what they face every day.
In an age when it seems every answer is found on a screen, the United States Border Patrol relies on experience and instinct. They call it tracking and as primitive as it may sound, this old-fashioned approach often leads agents to illegal aliens traveling into the US.
"A lot of times it comes down to an agent being able to track, being able to look down at the ground and being able to see something out of place and being able to follow that," Supervisory Agent Rush Carter said.
To the untrained eye, it may not look like much, but something as simple as a kicked rock can tell agents someone had walked through the area. Agents spend hours and sometimes even days tracking groups that could be miles ahead of them.
"Whether that change be in the environment like that broken twig, whether that change is in the community, where someone is hanging out that's not supposed to be there," Chief Agent John Smietana said.
The terrain in the Big Bend Sector is what can make the job so difficult. The agents are tasked with keeping a close watch on hundreds of miles of brush, dirt roads and uninhabitable conditions.
"It's very rugged, it's very remote and there's very little infrastructure. There's mountains, there's valleys, there's deserts," Smietana said.
The danger is real for Border Patrol agents, who often monitor areas alone late into the night.
"When you're out in the brush and it may be you and just your partner and there's a large group of people - you'd be lying if you said you never got scared. You're out there in the middle of the night and there might be 30 to 40 individuals. You don't know who's armed and who isn't," Special Operations Supervisor Stephen Crump said.
The agents say it isn't the immigrants who are typically dangerous, but the drug traffickers.
"The drug of choice to be coming across the border is marijuana, but we have seen an increase in methamphetamine, heroin and a little bit of cocaine," Smietana said.
The Big Bend Sector sees a lot of backpackers who carry 40 to 50 pounds of marijuana hundreds of miles.
"You always carry yourself and expect that, especially when you know you're on a trail and you believe it to be narcotics backpackers, you're just extra careful. Where there's drugs, there's usually guns," Carter said.
But these agents believe protecting the border is well worth the risk.
"If the border patrol was not here, this would not be a secure place to be," Carter said.
Tune into KCBD NewsChannel 11 Friday after the Olympics for part two of our story, where we look into the dangerous trek illegal immigrants make, and why they're so determined to make it into the U.S.
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