by Daniel Gonzalez and Mariana Dale
A top Mexican official Friday denied a report by Customs and Border Protection that a Mexican helicopter crossed the border into Arizona and fired shots near U.S. agents Thursday.
Tomas Zeron de Lucio, senior director of the Criminal Investigation Agency of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, said in a statement that the helicopter was taking part in a raid on a ranch near the border being used by a criminal organization to smuggle drugs and illegal immigrants across the border into the United States
As helicopters from the Mexican Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of National Defense approached the ranch, they were fired upon by the traffickers, Zeron de Lucio said. He said those were the only shots fired.
The incident happened a little over 100 yards from the border, he said.
“I don’t believe we crossed the border, because we had our (navigation devices), but it was exactly 100 meters from the border,” he said, according to a transcript of a conference he held with reporters in Mexico City.
He also said the operation was coordinated beforehand with the CBP.
He said Mexican authorities believe the ranch was being used to smuggle 400 migrants per day into the U.S during the summer season.
Mexican authorities apprehended 27 migrants from Mexico and 13 from Central America. The manager of the ranch was also arrested, he said.
“With the seizure of the La Sierrita ranch, the flow of a large quantity of migrants and drugs crossing from Mexico to the United States has been stopped,” Zeron de Lucio said. “These actions by the Mexican government reaffirm our commitment to combating organized crime.”
Earlier Friday, the CBP issued a statement saying that two shots had been fired at its agents.
The CBP report said the Mexican agents were conducting a mission on the southern side of the border Thursday morning when they crossed 100 yards into Arizona on the Tohono O’odham Reservation.
There were no injuries, and Border Patrol officials are investigating the incident, the statement said..
There have been more than 300 border incursions by Mexican military and law-enforcement authorities in the past decade, according to figures released recently by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.
Hunter said in a news release last week that the figures were provided by the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS did not respond to a request for confirmation.
Hunter’s data indicated that 152 of the incidents involved armed subjects. Of those, 81 incidents involved physical or verbal contact.
In January, two Mexican soldiers crossed into the U.S. near Sasabe and drew weapons on Border Patrol agents. The soldiers claimed they were in pursuit of three suspects, according to an incident report from the CBP. They lowered their weapons after speaking with U.S. agents and returned to Mexico about 45 minutes after the incident began.
The CBP declined to comment beyond its statement. Here’s a full statement:
“At approximately 5:45 a.m. Thursday morning, a Mexican law-enforcement helicopter crossed approximately 100 yards north into Arizona nearly 8 miles southwest of the Village of San Miguel on the Tohono O’odham Indian Nation while on a law- enforcement operation near the border. Two shots were fired from the helicopter, but no injuries or damage to U.S. property were reported. The incident is currently under investigation.”