Friday, March 28, 2014

National Border Patrol Museum

This week we visited the National Border Patrol Museum and Library in El Paso.

The Border Patrol officially began in 1924. Today the mission of 21,000 Border Patrol Agents is to prevent people from illegally entering the United States, to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from doing the same, and to prevent illegal trafficking of people, guns, drugs, and other contraband. The Border Patrol is responsible for 4,000 miles of US/Canadian border, 2,000 miles of US/Mexican border, and waters off the Florida coast.

Border Patrol checkpoints are fairly common in the southwest.  We'll be driving along when suddenly we see speed reduction signs and lane closures that funnel us to a check point comprised of Border Patrol officers, vehicles, temporary buildings, dogs, and, I assume,   high-tech equipment. In our experience, the agent asks if everyone in the vehicle is a citizen of the United States, sometimes jokingly asks if our dog is also a citizen (Jim always says "he's not telling") and we're sent on our way. We've heard stories about motor homes being entered and searched, but that hasn't happened to us.  

If there are two agents, one talks to us while the other pretty intently looks into the vehicle.  If there is only one agent, he/she engages us in at least a brief conversation, probably to get an idea of our demeanor.  

The lines move quickly and we appreciate the presence of the Border Patrol.

But back to the museum:  Other than a movie that discusses current operations along the borders, none of the exhibits referred to anything after the mid-1990's. Some of the signs were just typed or photo copied.  But while many displays have a home made feel, it was interesting.  For example, we learned that in 1961 when there was a rash of air plane hijackings (and an attempted hijacking at El Paso International), Border Patrol officers were assigned to fly on airliners. We also read that Border Patrol agents were assigned to uphold federal law during the civil rights movement, and joined US Marshals in protecting James Meredith as he enrolled as the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi. 

And, Jim bought a Border Patrol T-shirt and hat at the gift shop.  He can wear it next time we go through a check point.
Metal statue at the front of the Border Patrol Museum.  The museum gets no federal funding and is free.
Part of the Border Patrol dog exhibit included this display of items used by the dogs and their trainers.  The brown pouches near the bottom are protective dog-paw booties.  The pipe-like tubes in the center are dog toys that agents stuff with drugs so the dogs can learn the scent.  
Some of the older vehicles formerly used by the Border Patrol.  The jeep to the right was  restored for the museum by mechanics students at an El Paso high school.  There was also a display about ways people and drugs are smuggled into the US, including a scrap metal and junk raft Cubans floated to the coast of Florida.  The raft was called "Voyage to Freedom" but the sign said all the occupants were arrested.
This RAD (Robot Against Drugs) visited elementary schools (along with a Border Agent, I assume) to discourage kids from taking drugs.  I'm not exactly sure how that worked.   
Not too far from the museum is this Border Patrol office.

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