EL PASO, Texas – Here in Texas, border security is a hot topic. The line between Mexico and Texas stretches over 1200 miles and protecting it is a tough job. Now we’re not here to talk about the best way to do that, but rather focus on the history of how it’s been done and how dangerous that job can be.
From Brownsville to El Paso, Texas shares a long line of border with our neighbors to the south. A river may separate us, but in most border towns commuting back and forth is an everyday affair. However, there are those who don’t have the best intentions, and that’s where the border patrol comes in.
David Ham retired from the border patrol in 2003 but now he helps tell the story of the agency’s long history at the Border Patrol Museum in El Paso.
“Immigration is a very political issue right now, yes,” David said.
That’s why we’re going to focus on the history of these agents that have one heck of a responsibility.
“We enforce the laws that the people, who elected their congressmen, have passed,” David says. “That’s our job, to enforce the law. We try to do it as humanely as possible.”
Around 18,000 border patrol agents safeguard the borderline between the U.S. and Mexico, but when the border patrol was established, bootlegging was the biggest issue.
“The big thing when it started was prohibition era,” David said. “That was the bloodiest era in our history. We lost more agents in that time period than any other, both here and on the northern border. That’s basically their primary job from 1924 up until prohibition ended, I think in ’34.”
When David started his career, the job itself started to change.
“The late 60s early 70s was when the cartels started moving drugs big time,” David informed us. “In 72 we started to see a big increase in drug loads.”
Even though the majority of the border patrol’s attention has shifted south, the mission has stayed the same.
“You read about the early history, and nothing really has changed,” David says. “People try to smuggle and people try to come here. It’s gotten a lot more sophisticated.”
With more sophisticated smuggling comes a need for more sophisticated modes of transportation and weapons for the border patrol.
“It’s a never-ending chase,” David explained. “They change and we have to change with them.”
Among the sieged weapons David showed us was a homemade shotgun from the prohibition era called a zip gun.
“They’re just as well armed as we are,” David said. “Got to be careful.”
The Border Patrol has to be fast as the smugglers too, that’s why they’ve got some supped up cars including a Firebird that was part of operation roadrunner.
Over the years, 124 men and women who have protected our border have made the ultimate sacrifice. Here at the museum, they honor each and every one.
“That’s probably the most meaningful thing to me,” David said. “The fact I knew these guys, and they gave their life. It’s just like a war. You lose people and it affects you. You’re protecting the United States.”
So stop by the U.S. Border Patrol Museum in El Paso to see the hardware and hear how harrowing protecting the northern and southern borders of America can be.
“You get to see the type of people that these smugglers are and how they treat these people,” David said. “Those people that take apart that smuggling organization get a lot of satisfaction out of that.”