On the border

20 Jan


Shawn Kyne could never envision himself with an office job. And boy, did he get his wish. As a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Shawn helps patrol the western corridor of the Tucson Sector made up mostly of the Tohono O’odham Nation, an Indian reservation roughly the size of Connecticut.

It’s an intense, active job for the 2005 political science grad from Minnesota who says he was always interested in law enforcement.

The area Shawn patrols in southern Arizona is mountainous and sparsely populated, with rugged terrain and a harsh climate. There are tarantulas, rattlesnakes, scorpions, and plants that sting and poke. Often the people he encounters crossing the border illegally from Mexico into the United States have been walking for five days or more.

“I patrol the desert, looking for footprints and signs of entry into the U.S.,” Shawn says. “We run into everything from people coming here for work, human and drug smugglers, stolen vehicles, and gang members. We run the gamut of law enforcement. We operate on the pavement and in the dirt in the most remote areas of Arizona.”

Indeed, Shawn says no two days are ever the same.

“You never come to work expecting a boring day,” he explains. “You could lay in a wash for six hours and not hear a peep. And some days it’s like a movie – and it’s all good parts.”

At the heart of his work is tracking: using skills both simple (following tracks, looking for disturbances on the ground) and high-tech (thermal imaging, GPS, ground sensors).

“It’s not for everyone,” he admits. “It’s hard work, long days, and catching people who aren’t happy to see you.”

He says the Tucson Sector is one of the most active sections of the border, with people trying to cross into the country illegally every day, on every shift. And the smugglers are getting more sophisticated – but so is the Border Patrol.

“We have more agents on the ground and access to more technology than ever before,” he says.


In the photo above, Shawn is standing by the border fence. Part of the fence that runs along the U.S./Mexico border in the Tucson Sector of Arizona is a simple vehicle barricade – you can easily walk across the border here, but not legally. He explained that technology allows agents to detect crossings in these remote areas and arrest those who attempt to enter the country illegally. Shawn told photographer Jim Heemstra that if he walked into Mexico and crossed back into the U.S., he would have to arrest him. And he wasn’t joking.

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