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AGENTS SEE `A LOT OF PAIN’ EVERY DAY IN TOUGH JOB

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Juan Rodriguez can't get the woman with the rosary in her mouth out of his mind.

Most nights, the U.S. Border Patrol agent speeds from one end of Laredo, Texas, to the other, trying to catch Mexicans who cross the Rio Grande illegally.Recently, Rodriguez was shining his flashlight at the speeding Missouri Pacific freight when he saw a woman clinging to the train, terror in her eyes, a rosary in her mouth.

"I'm haunted by it," he said. "I don't know if she's alive. She could be lying there on the tracks, dead, and no one would know."

Rodriguez, 38, is beginning to feel burned out after 17 years of trying to catch illegal aliens who swim the river and hop the train.

He has seen too many drownings, too many illegal immigrants crippled or killed by train accidents.

"Sometimes I just want to quit," he said. "This job affects a lot of agents. We see a lot of pain."

"Our job is to catch them, but we don't wish them any bad luck," said Abiel Hinojosa, another agent.

"I have never seen anyone hit an illegal alien in five years, not here.

"We get accused of it sometimes, and sometimes we have to be forceful," he said. "Our job is, protect Americans from these people who are taking jobs. If we didn't have the Border Patrol, they would mess up the job market. Unemployment would be a lot greater."

Most studies of illegal immigration indicate the Mexicans take jobs Americans don't want.

"I grew up in Argentina, in Chile; I traveled all over South America," said agent Bennett Elliott.

"So I really feel for these people. My job is to catch them, but I always feel sorry for them."