Assaults on U.S. agents near Mexican border doubles over last year

Violent attacks against U.S. Border Patrol agents on the Mexican border nearly doubled over the last year, an increase attributed to the growing involvement of criminal gangs in human smuggling. The Border Patrol registered 687 assaults on its agents from Oct. 1, 2004, to Sept. 30, up from 349 the previous year, officials told The Arizona Republic for a Thursday story. All but one of the attacks occurred on the border with Mexico.

Officials say the increase reflects the influence of gangs and the higher profits they can make, as much as $2,000 per person, smuggling migrants across the border.

"Smuggling organizations have now shifted resources to areas that are very rural and isolated, and with that the prices that the smugglers are charging the aliens now rivals drug smuggling," said Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villarreal, based in Washington. "It's a big business."

Law enforcement officials recently told Congress that Mexican smuggling gangs have grown increasingly aggressive, hiring gangs armed with assault rifles and other weapons on both sides of the border to protect their trade.

The most common assaults involve rock-throwing, with softball-sized rocks hurled at Border Patrol trucks almost daily. Shootings are also on the rise, and smugglers have been trying to ram their way past the agents' vehicles, reports the AP. I.L.

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