The U.S. Border Patrol office in Riverside will be shut down in six months in what federal officials say is part of a wider effort to "more effectively" utilize resources—a claim that a citizens' advocacy group today called a cover for the Obama administration's real motive to avoid enforcing immigration laws.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, around year's end, the Riverside CBP station—in operation since 1967—will be "deactivated" and its nine agents likely transferred to nearby offices.
Agents who work out of the patrol a wide portion of the region, including the nearby Interstate 15 checkpoint south of Temecula.
The Riverside office was among nine CBP stations placed on a closure list released last week. The others are Abilene, Texas; Amarillo, Texas; Billings, Mont.; Dallas; Lubbock, Texas; San Angelo, Texas; San Antonio; and Twin Falls, Idaho.
The CBP's Southwest Border media affairs chief, Bill Brooks, released a statement saying the closures are part of a plan to "better align operations."
"In order to accomplish its mission more efficiently and to use its personnel more effectively, Customs and Border Protection has increasingly concentrated its resources in the immediate border areas," Brooks said. "These deactivations are consistent with the strategic goal of securing America's borders, and our objective of increasing and sustaining the certainty of arrest of those trying to enter our country illegally.
"By re-deploying and reallocating resources at or near the border, CBP will maximize the effectiveness of its enforcement mandate and align our investments with our mission," he continued. "Though agents would no longer be located in these areas, the Border Patrol intends to maintain strong and meaningful law enforcement partnerships with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies in these areas through continuing to actively share intelligence and information."
The Riverside office is one of four in the CBP's El Centro sector, which encompasses all of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, as well as portions of Imperial, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
CBP Supervising Agent Armando Garcia told City News Service that in the fiscal year ending September 2011, the El Centro sector made roughly 31,000 apprehensions, nabbing suspected illegal aliens, drug smugglers and other lawbreakers.
Garcia declined to comment on what impact "deactivating" the Riverside office might have on enforcement operations in the region.
Ira Mehlman, with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told CNS that the decision to close the CBP office in Riverside tracks with the Obama administration's "overall policy of non-enforcement of our nation's immigration laws."
"For the last three-plus years, the administration has taken a position that says: 'If you come here illegally, it's no big deal; just don't come here and commit a serious crime.' They have dismantled any kind of meaningful enforcement. The country's immigration policy should be to protect the interests of the American people."
Mehlman compared the CBP's closures to "eliminating a second line of defense."
"These stations have agents who are stopping illegal aliens, drug smugglers and others on their way to the interior of the country," he said. "You can't stop everybody at the border. Think of it like football. Would you put all of your offense or defense at the line of scrimmage?"
Mehlman said the closures, the president's signing of an executive order last month suspending deportations of some undocumented immigrants who are under 30 years old and legal challenges to state laws cracking down on illegal immigration send the wrong message.
"They're saying if a person can get past the first line of defense at the border, they're home free and can stay here as long as they don't commit a serious crime," he said.
In the past several years, the Department of Homeland Security has initiated multiple nationwide sweeps to catch criminal undocumented aliens, netting thousands of arrests. Mehlman applauded the actions but said they fail to address the core problem of preventing illegal entry to the United States.
The Riverside CBP office has come under fire in the past for what pro- immigrants' rights groups criticized as overzealous enforcement practices. In 2009, the Justice for Immigrants Coalition held protests outside the station, displaying videos of raids in which agents made random detentions and chased people into homes and markets to arrest them.
The group alleged the Riverside-based agents were trying to meet monthly arrest quotas, which the CBP adamantly denied.