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    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    AZ: Meet the man who runs the busiest stretch of the border

    Meet the man who runs the busiest stretch of the border
    by Linda Valdez - Feb. 8, 2009 12:00 AM
    The Arizona Republic
    As a boy, Robert Gilbert's job was to polish the big, black boots that were part of his father's Border Patrol uniform.

    As chief of the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, Gilbert now keeps track of all the boots on the ground in the largest and busiest border region. The 3,200 agents he oversees patrol 262 miles of border and account for the highest number of drug seizures and illegal-immigrant apprehensions in the nation.

    I ask if it was a reward or a punishment to be assigned to lead the nation's border hot spot. "It was an honor," Gilbert answers.

    And there isn't a hint of guile in his smoky-blue eyes.

    "If you can't get excited about defending the United States of America, you don't have a pulse," he says.

    Gilbert, 46, proudly followed in his father's boot prints, beginning his career with the Border Patrol when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Gilbert's assignments took him to San Diego, El Paso and the Canadian border. He took over as Tucson Sector chief in March 2007.

    Last month, Gilbert was ready to travel to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of Barack Obama. But he canceled the trip and gave up his much-coveted tickets because his 2½-year-old son got sick. It was, he explained, a simple matter of priorities. Going to Washington was something he wanted to do. His son's needs easily trumped that.

    As a young man, Gilbert established the top four personal priorities that have guided his life ever since. In all things, God comes first, he says. Then family. Then job. Then self.

    "The reason I put myself last is because I need that job to take care of that family," he explained.

    The family includes a Peruvian-born wife, his toddler son and a 4-year-old daughter. The kids "maul" him as soon as he walks through the door each night, and the affection is obviously mutual. He beams when he talks about them. Their pictures, along with pictures of his wife and his father, hold positions of honor in his office.

    Another personal touch among the flags and professional paraphernalia in his office are hunting trophies that recall the "father-son bonding time" he spends with Dad. There's a javelina head with spiky fur hanging on one wall. The skull of an elk with a six-point rack is on another.

    As a family man, Gilbert understands what motivates the vast majority of those who cross the border illegally. In most cases, they are good people looking to better their lives, he says. If he were in their shoes, "all the green shirts in the world" wouldn't stop him from trying to cross the border.

    What would stop him is the threat of going to jail. That's why he supports an end to the "catch and release" practice in which those apprehended are simply sent back across the border. The sheer numbers of apprehensions - more than 300,000 last fiscal year - preclude prosecuting everyone who is caught.

    But the Arizona Denial Prosecution Initiative, which began last year, resulted in more than 13,000 illegal immigrants being successfully prosecuted in fiscal 2008. The maximum penalty is 180 days in jail. Coupled with other efforts, such as repatriating migrants to the interior of Mexico, this meant about 71,000 people did not have the typical "voluntary return" option last year.

    Gilbert says imposing consequences for illegal entry can be a deterrent. That's why he also supports education efforts in Mexico to spread the word that crossing the border is a crime and that it can result in jail time. If enough would-be job seekers hear that message and decide to stay home, catching the bad guys will be a lot easier.

    He says the "clutter and chaos" created by the 90 percent of illegal immigrants who are simply looking for work provides cover for 10 percent who are dangerous criminals. These bad guys include smugglers, murderers, rapists, child molesters and other dangerous criminals. Any one of them could pose a national-security threat.

    Another potential threat comes from the increasing violence in Mexico from drug cartels. Last year, drug-related homicides claimed more than 5,000 lives in Mexico and included a shootout just across the Arizona border in Nogales, Sonora. The Justice Department calls Mexican cartels the biggest organized-crime threat to the United States, and Gilbert is well aware of the danger. He says protocols are in place that can result in deploying state, local and federal resources if cartel violence breaches the border. The threat of that "impressive force" means it is not in the cartels' best interest to export their violence, he says.

    "The Border Patrol gets caught up in the great immigration debate," Gilbert says. "But we are not an immigration agency. We are an all-threats agency."

    The Border Patrol's mission is to achieve "operational control" of the border. Gilbert defines this as being able to identify, classify and resolve any entry to the country that occurs. He readily admits, "We're not where we want to be." A big impediment to imposing order is the huge number of migrant job seekers who drain resources.

    So, what about a guest-worker program to reduce illegal immigration?

    Gilbert seems pleased to let that question pass. He is a law-enforcement officer, and that gives him the luxury of being apolitical, he says. He follows current law and policy.

    As part of "the thin, green line on the border," he has seen the Border Patrol's job change dramatically from the days when he polished his father's boots. In addition to far more agents in uniform - the Border Patrol is actively recruiting even in this economy - high-tech surveillance equipment and modern infrastructure make the job increasingly sophisticated.

    But the big change is the danger facing agents, Gilbert says. Violent attacks are rising. Last fiscal year, agents along the border were assaulted 261 times. Gilbert says that is a reaction to Border Patrol successes.

    One thing hasn't changed.

    Gilbert says that his father was "passionate about his job" and that he, Gilbert, wants the public to know he brings that same sense of duty and enthusiasm to his efforts to protect national security.

    "It's easy to do the right thing," he says.

    And once again, he speaks with a clear sense of mission and an utter lack of guile.

    www.azcentral.com
    Support our FIGHT AGAINST illegal immigration & Amnesty by joining our E-mail Alerts at https://eepurl.com/cktGTn

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    Senior Member vmonkey56's Avatar
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    The 3,200 agents he oversees patrol 262 miles of border and account for the highest number of drug seizures and illegal-immigrant apprehensions in the nation.
    How long has he been ignoring our wishes? Since the last amnesty? Close the Border.
    Join our efforts to Secure America's Borders and End Illegal Immigration by Joining ALIPAC's E-Mail Alerts network (CLICK HERE)

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