Details remain sketchy as a press time as to what occurred early Wednesday morning which led to a U.S. Border Patrol agent suffering non-life threatening injuries at the hands of one or more undocumented immigrants near the Coronado National Monument in southern Cochise County.
The assault took place before 5 a.m. in a remote region near Palominas patrolled by the agents with the USBP Brian Terry Station within the service area of USBP’s Tucson Sector. Unofficial reports are that the agent suffered wounds on the hands and face after being slashed or stabbed while agents attempted to arrest a small group of migrants near Montezuma Canyon.
The agent was transported from the scene for medical attention. Meanwhile, vehicles from myriad public safety and law enforcement agencies were still in the area more than 7 hours later.
Requests for comment about what occurred were referred by local, state, and federal agencies to the FBI. At 5 p.m., FBI spokeswoman Brooke Brennan provided this statement to Arizona Daily Independent:
“The FBI is conducting an investigation into the assault of a Border Patrol agent near Naco, AZ on Wednesday, January 26, 2022. This is an ongoing investigation. No other information can be released at this time.”
The lack of transparency throughout the day for community members and tourists in the area was further aggravated by the fact USBP Tucson Sector Chief John Modlin took to Twitter three times Wednesday, but never once addressed the assault on one of his own agents.
Two of Modlin’s tweets featured recent arrests by agents assigned to in his Nogales and Sonoita stations. The third was a retweet of a May 2021 water rescue of a migrant in California.
The lack of information left residents in the highly rural area on edge throughout the day and into nightfall. It was not until 6:30 p.m. that Brennan, the FBI spokeswoman, confirmed for the first time that there was no outstanding danger to the public in connection to the incident.
The area where the agent was attacked has been highly trafficked by drug smugglers and undocumented immigrants since early 2021 despite pleas from Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels to federal authorities to address the dangerous situation for residents as well as law enforcement personnel.
It is only one of several areas along the U.S. / Mexico border which have become unsecured since January 2021. During that time, federal officials estimate they have encountered 1.7 million people coming into the U.S. illegally, while hundreds of surveillance cameras across the border confirm several thousands more every month evaded capture.
The crushing influx of people breaching the United States’ southwest border has led to frequent calls from law enforcement officials, USBP and CBP union leaders, and humanitarian groups to address the lack of support or basic planning from the Biden Administration for handling the overwhelming numbers of people flooding into the U.S.
Wednesday’s attack will likely draw renewed attention to former Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus who was confirmed in December as the new Commissioner of the 60,000 employees of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes both CBP officers at ports of entry and USBP agents stationed behind those POEs.
Magnus’ nomination was widely criticized due to his lack of managerial experience to run such a large federal agency given TPD has less than 1,200 employees. The nomination was equally decried by many law enforcement leaders and former USBP employees based on Magnus’ well-documented lack of support for the USBP mission in Arizona.
That mission, according to the agency’s webpage, is “to detect and prevent the illegal entry of individuals into the United States.”
The majority of Arizona’s 15 sheriffs rallied against the Magnus nomination, but after his confirmation they committed to looking past their differences to work closely with CBP and USBP officials to protect against threats posed to Arizonans by the unsecured U.S. / Mexico border.
Those sheriffs -including Dannels in Cochise County and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb- may be giving Magnus time to adjust to the new job, but a former chief of USBP Tucson Sector has made his opinion clear about the demoralized and dangerous conditions agents are facing every day on the border.
Roy Villareal was a USBP agent for more than 30 years, serving as chief patrol agent of the 3,900 employees at Tucson Sector from 2019 to 2020. He took to social media earlier this month after agents assigned to USBP Yuma Sector met with Magnus, who Villareal called “clueless.”
“The new CBP Commissioner is not the right person for the job,” Villareal wrote. “According to agents who he addressed during a meeting, [Magnus] believes the current situation at the border is not the result of his Administration’s action and inaction; rather it’s a need for more personnel and policy changes with the organization.”
The result, warned Villareal, is that border security “will continue to unravel” unless Magnus heeds the advice of those in the trenches.
“He will lose the slim level of support he has within the Border Patrol if he doesn’t take the time to listen and learn from the true border security experts – the Border Patrol agents.” Villareal wrote.
Then on Wednesday, just hours after the attack on the USBP agent in Cochise County, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was in Yuma for his own meeting with agents. During that meeting, at least one USBP agent reportedly turned his back on Mayorkas.
Villareal, who previously served in the Yuma Sector, called out the Biden Administration after the meeting for the position USBP agents have been placed in.