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Sonoran Ramblings: DEA & the cartels, BP shootings, and yes, Bieber

It's been an eventful couple weeks for immigration and border news. Let's begin with the story that hands-down generated the most buzz: the Mexican paper El Universal's Jan. 6 report detailing high-level talks between members of the Drug Enforcement Administration and leading members of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel.   

The paper's big finding? "On Mexican territory, agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency and Department of Justice prosecutors met and negotiated, in secret, with members of drug cartels in order to obtain information about rival organizations, which increased violence across the country ... David Gaddis, the former regional director of the DEA …, authorized his agents to meet with members of cartels without informing the Mexican government and allowed, through written agreements, that the drug traffickers continue operating."

Several sources quoted in the story said that such independent action on the part of U.S. federal agents violates numerous agreements with the Mexican government. According to court documents obtained by the paper, DEA agents have recently met with high-ranking Sinaloa members on Mexican territory more than 50 times.  

It looks like the Business Insider was the first (Jan. 13) major English-language outlet to carry a summary of the story. BI's Michael Kelley mostly provides a faithful synopsis of the report's key findings, but also makes the important point that this sort of a relationship has long been suspected. High-level ties between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Mexican government have also long been suspected, as laid out by Mexico's leading drug war journalist Anabel Hernandez. Numerous other U.S. outlets (HuffPo, Salon, Latin Times, and, interestingly, Glenn Beck's The Blaze, among many others) carried similar summaries. Both InSight Crime and the Washington Post carried analyses that played down the significance of the report.

For example, InSight Crime's Charles Parkinson wrote that "[t]his is not some conspiracy to protect or favor certain groups — it is a tactic employed by the DEA and other US agencies to allow them to focus efforts on priority targets, and allow them to build solid cases." Similarly, WaPo's Max Fisher says that "none of this necessarily means that the U.S. is actively taking the side of a Mexican drug cartel or allowing it to operate unimpeded."

Border Patrol, true to form, has also been generating some unseemly headlines over the past couple weeks. Though details remain sketchy, the Cochise County Sheriff's Office released a statement on a fatal (Jan. 16) struggle in which a man was shot and killed by an agent near State Route 80. According to the CCSO's release, the deceased tried to take the agent's weapon after being found hiding under a mesquite tree trying to avoid apprehension.

On Jan. 14, the Washington Post revealed that the Border Patrol has flown nearly 700 unmanned domestic drone surveillance missions for numerous federal, state and local enforcement agencies between 2010 and 2012.

Based on documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Post's reporters write that, "the border-­patrol drones are being commissioned by other agencies more often than previously known. Most of the missions are performed for the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration and immigration authorities. But they also aid in disaster relief and in the search for marijuana crops, methamphetamine labs and missing persons, among other missions not directly related to border protection."

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For obvious reasons, the increased use of drones domestically has raised the hackles of civil libertarians.

In a story that can't be told enough, the Arizona Republic's Bob Ortega's Jan. 8 article "Numbers don't back need for lethal force at border" compares CBP and Arizona data on assaults against their law enforcement officers.

Yet again, the numbers reveal that being a state or local police officer is a significantly more dangerous job than being an agent: in FY 2012, there were 555 assaults against 21,394 BP agents and 2,136 assaults against Arizona's 14,686 law enforcement officers.

Furthermore, as the AP revealed in 2010, most assaults against BP agents are with rocks while most assaults against police officers are with knives and guns. In the agency's nearly 100-year history, no on-duty BP agent has ever been killed by a rock. Agency auto-mythologizing notwithstanding, Ortega shows that this remains an indisputable fact: being a BP agent is one of the safest law enforcement jobs in the country.  

If there's a light side to mass deportation, the Canadian pop superstar Justin Bieber's recent run-in with California law enforcement is certainly a part of it.

On the evening of Thursday Jan. 9, Justin Bieber allegedly participated in the extensive egging of his neighbor's home in Calabasas, a well-heeled community northwest of Los Angeles. According to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Lt. David Thompson, the vandalism caused $20,000 in damage, making it a felony.

If charged and convicted of the crime, which is not at all certain, Bieber could be rendered deportable. Bieber, a Canadian citizen, is in the United States on a renewable visa and is not a legal permanent resident.

This week, Bieber was arrested in Florida on charges of drag-racing, DUI and resisting arrest, the Associated Press reported. If convicted of those offenses, Bieber may not be sent back to Canada, as they may not rise to felony levels, the AP reported.

While the thought of the teen idol being detained and deported no doubt brought a smile to the face of many who find his nauseatingly saccharine pop offerings to be unlistenable, his case highlights some decidedly unsavory realities of contemporary immigration enforcement: crimes that many perceive as less-than-serious often spell disaster and family separation for legal permanent residents.

As the American Immigration Council points out, "[y]our average immigrant could be deported for such offenses or even less dramatic ones, as 68 percent of legal immigrants (including permanent residents) are deported for minor, non-violent crimes. And there is no statute of limitation in the immigration laws. Immigrants can be put into deportation proceedings for crimes committed years — even decades — earlier."

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TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Sonoran Ramblings

... is a roundup of immigration news and a column of border media criticism by Murphy Woodhouse, a University of Arizona instructor who has reported for TucsonSentinel.com, the Nogales International, the Missoulian, Truthout, the Palestine Monitor and The Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, and been shortlisted for the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.