NOGALES, Ariz. -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Nogales, Arizona are on the front lines in the fight against drugs, terrorism, and illegal immigration. CBP's Nogales Station is the largest Border Patrol station in the United States and is one of eight stations in the Tucson Sector.
We went behind the scenes in the twin border towns of Nogales, Arizona (US) and Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) as National Geographic crews taped the hit reality show ‘Border Wars.’
This is the third time the 'Border Wars' crew has filmed in Arizona. Nick Stein, series producer, told us, "We live and embed with these guys like no one ever has before and the result is we film things that have truly never been captured on film before."
Being embedded means his crews are not only putting themselves in danger, their every move is being closely watched and documented.
"As you can see behind me, this is Nogales, Sonora [Mexico], it's right up close and they've got the high ground," Stein said as he motioned toward some buildings perched on a rocky hill overlooking the border. "Right now there are scouts and there are people watching us, there is no question about it"
In this week's episode of 'Border Wars', CBP agents discover an underground tunnel that is believed to have been built by members of a Mexican drug cartel. These illegal tunnels are often used to smuggle in drugs and people into the U.S. from Mexico.
A ‘Border Wars' photographer didn’t hesitate going underground. He not only captured the cramped quarters, but quickly discovered what sent a U.S. Border Patrol Agent scrambling for safety.
“You know what? I hear voices; let's get the (expletive) out of here."
According to Stein, “They literally have to back up to get away because they're in about as vulnerable of a position as you can be, stuck in a tiny hole, right on the Mexican side of the border."
The upcoming episode, titled "Smuggler’s Tunnel," also reveals the desperate measures migrants make to cross the border, often admitting on camera that they plan to do it again.
Stein says, "The voice of the other side of the border is coming across more and more and more, we give it more and more screen time."
But what’s not getting screen time is anything that jeopardizes National Security. Brian Levin is a Chief Customs and Border Protection Officer in Nogales. Levin says, "There is some concern about the bad guys seeing what we're doing. But we're not giving away our secrets here."
Officer safety comes first for National Geographic because they probably more than most, understand the dangers associated with cracking down on drug cartels.
Stein says, "We are very sensitive to identifying people, some of them live in the community, they certainly live right near the border, there is no fooling around down here, this is the real deal, this is dangerous."
The latest episode of 'Border Wars' airs Sunday, Sept. 18, at 10 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.
A CLOSER LOOK: CBP TUCSON SECTOR - NOGALES STATION
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents from Nogales Station cover 1,100 square miles of rough terrain, including 32 miles of International Border. The Station’s protection area includes Nogales, Rio Rico, Tubac, Patagonia, Amado, and Green Valley and large parts of the Coronado National Forest.
Nogales Station first opened on July 1, 1924 and consisted of two Immigration Patrol Inspectors. Today, there are more than 3,300 agents assigned to the Tucson Sector, which is more than CBP's Northern and Coastal Region's combined.
In 2010, Border Patrol agents in CBP's Western Region apprehended 447,731 individuals attempting to cross the border illegally. That's a 73% drop from the 1,643,679 apprehensions made in 2000. This significant drop is often credited to a combination of an increase in Border Patrol agents and resources and economic issues.