100s of Border Patrol SUVs in shop
Fleet's condition hampers enforcement work in Arizona, a law enforcement union official says.
June 22, 2002
Nearly half of the vehicles assigned to Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector are in the garage awaiting repairs, union officials say.
Of the 543 sport utility vehicles designated for use by field agents and station management, 234 are broken and out of commission.
At some stations, including those dealing with the highest influx of illegal immigration, up to 70 percent of field vehicles are broken.
The poor condition of the fleet has hampered enforcement efforts, raised safety issues and lowered morale of agents, said Bud Tuffly, president of the Tucson Border Patrol union.
"We have agents sitting around the office because there aren't enough vehicles running," Tuffly said.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol's parent agency, had no record of how much money is budgeted for vehicle repairs, said Lori Haley, regional INS spokeswoman.
She declined to comment on the volume of repairs needed in the Tucson Sector.
"Keeping those vehicles safe and maintained is the highest priority," Haley said. "We take it very seriously any time an agent reports a problem with the vehicle."
David Aguilar, Tucson Sector Border Patrol chief, declined to be interviewed about vehicle problems.
But he said in a statement that the rugged terrain takes a toll on the agency's flee
"The combination of rocks, sandy wash and thorned vegetation accelerate wear and damage to tires and the undercarriage of vehicles," he said.
The Tucson Sector covers all of Arizona except Yuma, Mohave and La Paz counties. It includes 281 miles of shared border with Mexico.
The Border Patrol fleet has mostly Ford Expeditions. Vehicles have suffered from a lack of repairs and maintenance for years, Tuffly said. The problem became critical last month, after Border Patrol mechanics were forbidden to work overtime, he said.
Agents have reported problems ranging from a tire flying off at highway speed to broken windows and door handles, Tuffly said. At least 25 of the vehicles have 130,000 to 200,000 miles on the odometer.
Introduced in 1997, Expeditions in the Border Patrol fleet have not been problem-free.
In 1999, agents in Tucson and El Paso, Del Rio and Laredo, Texas, reported that the vehicle's wheels fell off when it was driven on extremely rough terrain. On a couple of occasions, agents discovered loose wheels attached to vehicles.
After the wheels fell off the Expeditions of Tucson agents nine times between August 1998 and March 1999, agents began tightening lug nuts on the wheels after every shift.
Once the nuts were tightened, the vehicles worked fine. No serious injuries occurred in any of the incidents.
Area - Vehicles - Broken - %
Tucson Sector - 543 - 234 - 43%
Ajo - 72 - 51 - 71%
Tucson (4wd) - 70 - 37 - 53%
Tucson (vans) - 22 - 12 - 55%
Casa Grande - 62 - 28 - 45%
Willcox - 12 - 4 - 33%
Nogales - 89 - 32 - 36%
Naco - 66 - 27 - 41%
Sonoita - 14 - 6 - 43%
Douglas - 136 - 37 - 27%
Includes vehicles assigned to field agents and station management
Source: U.S. Border Patrol union