Customs and Border Protection Bureau officials conceded that Border Patrol agents crossed into Mexico while pursuing drug smugglers, but they also said the incursion was only about 27 feet and the agents acted while in hot pursuit of armed drug traffickers.
Law enforcement officials this writer spoke with say they are appalled at outrage expressed by the Mexican government and some lawmakers on Capitol Hill over the incident.
"The agents were following their adrenaline and dealing with a tense situation following a drug trafficking attempt," Border Patrol spokesman Doug Mosier told AP.
"We've always had a very good working relationship with Mexico. We're perplexed."
The incident has caused many to call the Mexican government hypocritical since Mexican police and soldiers have entered the US on several occasions. Mexican officials characterized US border agents chasing suspects "a breach of Mexican sovereignty." They said that the Mexican federal police have started a full investigation into this one incident.
The case involved agents chasing a pickup truck full of marijuana that was driven across the Rio Grande and got stuck in the mud on the Mexican bank. The suspects abandoned the vehicle and ran into Mexico. They are still at-large in their home country since the Mexican police are investigating the Border Patrol instead of hunting for the drug smugglers.
Several Border Patrol agents -- Mexico claims there were 15 -- started picking up drug bundles that had fallen off the truck and some that were still inside the truck, according to officials. The international boundary is an imaginary line through the center of the Rio Grand.
Police officers from the village of Guadalupe Distrito Bravos, some of whom wore no uniforms, arrived at the scene openly displaying their firearms, officials on both sides of the border said. The American agents drew their guns which led to a tense standoff. According to officials, the US agents cautiously withdrew to their side of the border.
Border Patrol officials initially reported that they were skeptical that their agents had set foot into Mexico. However, after a preliminary investigation, Robert Gilbert, Border Patrol chief for the El Paso sector, said last Monday night that there had been an incursion of perhaps 25 feet. He also stressed that the incursion resulted from drug smugglers attempting to enter the US with a large shipment of marijuana.
"Agents had been acting on instinct when trying to secure the vehicle for their own safety," Gilbert said.
"In the past, these events have had the potential to turn violent and so officers must take steps to minimize any threat. Agents instinctively secure vehicles for officer-safety reasons after perpetrators flee," he said.
Border Patrol officials said they were not considering disciplinary action against the agents for the moment but continued to look into the matter. They said they were surprised by the Mexican public reaction.
"They should be surprised at Mexico's blatant hypocrisy. I wish I had a buck for everytime Mexican cops and soldiers who work for the drug cartels illegally enter the United States armed to the teeth," said an Arizona police officer who requested anonymity.
"And for our own leaders to remain silent when Mexican [cops] enter the US, while they try to appease the [Mexican] government when our guys chase bad guys, is outrageous," he added.
For example, last January, Hudspeth County, Arizona sheriff's deputies accused the Mexican military of taking part in a standoff and a possible incursion over an abandoned drug load. Yet US government officials denied the Mexican incursion in order to quell the tension between the US cops and renegade Mexican soldiers.
During a congressional hearing into the Hudspeth County incident, Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar said that there had been 144 documented incursions by possible Mexican officials into the United States between 2001 and 2005. But he claimed many of them were "unintentional" violations of US sovereignty.
Also common are attacks on Border Patrol agents from south of the border -- with rocks, flaming bottles and bullets. In once incident an agent near Fort Hancock was shot in the leg by assailants in Mexico.
According to an AP story, the last time Mexican officials decried an American incursion in the El Paso area was in 2002, when FBI agents allegedly went a few feet into Mexico at Anapra to retrieve two wounded agents who had been dragged through a hole in the border fence by Mexican train robbers.
In this last incident, Border Patrol agents retrieved about 300 pounds of marijuana from the pickup and Mexican police unloaded another 1,441 pounds, according to officials from various agencies. The truck itself, a gray Chevrolet, had been reported to police stolen in El Paso, Texas in May 2006, which means the suspects had been inside the US committing crimes even then.
Meanwhile, the Bush Administration remains silent, as do lawmakers from both political parties.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.