It might have seemed like a “Three Stooges” routine, except the stakes were much higher for accused migrant smuggler Jose Quinonez-Lopez and the Border Patrol agent he was trying to escape.
After a chase, the agent caught up with Mr. Quinonez-Lopez and was straddling him to try to make an arrest when the smuggling suspect began jabbing the agent in the genitals. The agent moved his hand to block the jabs, and Mr. Quinonez-Lopez poked the agent in the face. When the agent moved to protect his face, Mr. Quinonez-Lopez ripped at his genitals again.
The agent wasn’t seriously hurt, but Mr. Quinonez-Lopez’s attack was so brutal that he managed to tear through the agent’s uniform pants and even his underwear, authorities said in documents filing criminal charges.
The Nov. 15 incident is part of a growing number of attacks on agents at the border. More migrants and smugglers are ready to fight rather than flee or surrender.
In October, 61 Border Patrol agents were assaulted along the southern border in 48 incidents — the most in any month since the start of fiscal year 2020. Just 28 assaults on agents at the southern border were reported last October and 16 in October 2021.
The trend has been heading in the wrong direction altogether. In fiscal year 2022, 539 agents were assaulted, up from 441 in 2021 and 359 in 2020.
Officials at Customs and Border Protection downplayed the October numbers.
“United States Border Patrol agents are trained, equipped, and authorized to respond appropriately when faced with a threat,” the agency said in a statement to The Washington Times. “However, when harm is attempted, CBP works with federal and state prosecutors to ensure appropriate cases are referred for prosecution.”
The agency said the 61 assaults this October across 48 incidents weren’t far off from the numbers for most of 2022 and were in line with what would be expected given the number of illegal crossers.
Mark Morgan, who served as head of CBP in the Trump administration, said that’s the problem: Assaults have increased, and it’s another measure of how the situation has deteriorated under President Biden.
“You’re increasing the number of illegal aliens that are trying to avoid apprehension. They’re running, they’re fighting, they’re doing everything they can. With that, more agents are going to be assaulted,” he said.
The increase in assaults is also closely tied to more migrant deaths, and agents have to make more rescues.
“Every single potential negative aspect is exponentially expanded when you have policies that increase illegal immigration across the board,” he said. “Assaults on agents is just another of the dominos to fall when you have open borders.”
Agents say they have seen improvements from the more freewheeling days at the end of the Bush administration and the first years of the Obama administration. From 2008 to 2010, the Border Patrol tallied more than 1,000 assaults each year.
The vast majority of them were “rocking” incidents, in which smugglers or migrants threw rocks at or dropped boulders on agents on patrol.
The tactic was particularly common in California and Arizona.
The decrease in incidents coincided with the first major round of border fence construction under President George W. Bush and with a massive influx of manpower at the Border Patrol.
Mr. Morgan said border wall construction during the Trump administration has further helped limit assaults.
Still, the numbers are high.
“The Border Patrol is the most assaulted law enforcement agency in the United States,” Mr. Morgan said. “There’s no other agency that produces the number of assaults on agents as the Border Patrol.”
Though rocking incidents are down and shootings remain rare, migrants are willing to use their fists and smugglers are increasingly using vehicles as weapons.
That was the case with Ricardo Diaz. Agents said he was smuggling migrants along the border in California on Oct. 13 when they tried to stop his BMW. He rammed one Border Patrol vehicle and kept swerving to try to smash into another, agents recounted in a criminal complaint.
Agents tried to spin the car into a stop, but the driver managed to keep going and smashed into the first agent’s vehicle a couple of more times before that agent managed to end the chase by pinning the BMW to a highway guardrail.
Mr. Diaz told agents he didn’t know why they chased him, and he denied smuggling.
He is being prosecuted on a charge of assaulting an agent.
A couple of hours after Mr. Diaz’s arrest and a little bit west along the border, agents tried to stop a smuggling suspect at a highway checkpoint. They said Issak Isaiah Monge, driving a Range Rover, swerved to try to strike an agent manning the checkpoint and then sped away. The vehicle smashed into a Border Patrol vehicle before it was brought to a stop.
Later that day, in Arizona, agents nabbed an illegal immigrant who they say threw a rock at a Customs and Border Protection helicopter hovering roughly 50 feet off the ground. The rock missed.
The pilot, who is part of CBP Air and Marine Operations, a sister agency to the Border Patrol, said a rock hitting a rotor would have brought down the chopper.