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On night patrol with El Paso Border Patrol agents

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A quiet night along the border suddenly turned busy.

“Do you guys have room?” a Border Patrol agent said.

“Yeah, jump in,” Border Patrol Supervisor Joe Romero said.

Border Patrol agents were searching for an illegal immigrant who somehow got past the border fence. The immigrant on the run was being chased on foot, by vehicle and also by agents on horses and in all-terrain vehicles.

"I know a lot of people think, 'Whoa, that's a lot of effort for just one guy,'” Romero said. “But who is that guy? Is he a criminal? Is he a gang banger? Is he a wanted murderer? Is he a terrorist? Or is he just somebody who wanted to cross and didn't want to get caught?"

The chase led from the landfill in Sunland Park, New Mexico, down to the neighborhoods near McNutt Road. Searching for a distinct footprint along the streets, and even in neighbors’ yards, we were hoping to find a lead to the location of the suspect but had no luck.

“Now this can be one of those moments where you win some, you lose some,” Romero said.

Romero believes the suspect we were chasing may have done this before.

“He avoids all this dirt,” Romero said, pointing to the ground. “That’s the interesting part is that this individual knew how to avoid.”

Catching every single person who crosses over the border illegally is nearly impossible -- even with an 18-foot-tall, double-mesh, high-grade steel fence -- since there are roughly 268 miles of international border along the El Paso sector.

“The whole basis of the fence is it needs to buy us time,” Romero said. “It’s a deterrence and it slows the amount of people, or limits the amount of people, that are gonna come across.”

While agents are in pursuit, they make sure to look through every nook and cranny, including the area around someone’s home, leading up to their porch.

In 2006, Romero said, a large number of apprehensions were made, with an average of about 122,000 a year. In Oct. 2006, former President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act into law.

“After 2006, we got the big hiring push. We started seeing more agents being brought in,” Romero said. “We got more resources, more technology, more infrastructure."

It was a multibillion-dollar plan to build hundreds of miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. By 2008, Romero said, the number of apprehensions began to drop, due to the new fencing. That year, Romero said, apprehensions dropped by 30,000, and since 2009, agents have been arresting anywhere between 10,000 to 25,000 immigrants a year.

Many people don’t realize that crossing the border when the sun sets involves facing the dangers in the desert.

“Eliminate the warehouses. Look this way,” Romero said. “And, typically, you go another 5 to 10 miles that way, but this is all you're seeing. It all looks the same."

Once the sun goes down, there is complete darkness, with no mountains visible on any side.

“"So you're in the middle of dark. You're wondering, 'Where am I?'” Romero said. “And you're hoping that the smuggler doesn't get spooked, because we start closing in, and abandons you. And that's what we do find a lot of. We're tracking a group through this area. We're out in the middle of the desert. Smuggler gets spooked, tells everybody to 'lay down, lay down. I'm gonna check on something and be right back.' No, he's leaving. He's running."

At that point, Romero said, the agent’s goal is to get to the main group, before something bad happens. That’s where Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue, or BORSTAR, comes into play.

“Our Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue team,” Romero said. “They're all trained paramedics. Their job is to go out there, track people down and give them the medical attention they need."

Romero said, with regard to those who manage to get away, agents will find the weakness in their coverage and immediately deploy their assets to close that gap.

“Our ability to respond to threats quickly now is a far cry from what we had 10 years ago, where we didn't have that ability,” Romero said. “We might know where we have gaps, but we didn't have the infrastructure or the manpower or the resources to close those gaps. Now, we can do that within hours."

Whether on horses, in ATVs or in their vehicles, agents say they’ve got the resources to track you down.

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