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US Homeland Security Agency Announces Major Effort to Stop Smuggling Along Mexico Border - 2004-03-17

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday a major effort to stop immigrant and drug smuggling along the Mexico border with the southwestern state of Arizona, a largely desert area where hundreds of migrants have perished in recent years. One aim of the new plan is to prevent more deaths on the border.

U.S. Homeland Security Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson announced the new effort in the Arizona city of Tucson, located not far from the border with Mexico. It is called the Arizona Border Control Initiative and involves better coordination between federal agencies, state, local and even Native American Indian tribal authorities in the border region.

One key element is increased cooperation with Mexican authorities to stop immigrant smugglers and the potential use of the border by terrorists. But Rob Daniels, the Border Patrol spokesman in Tucson, said the main objective now is to strengthen enforcement on the U.S. side of the line and to care for people who need emergency help. "What we are talking about immediately in the area of personnel is 60 additional agents who will be BORSTAR, or Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue certified, to be able to [provide emergency assistance to] people along the border," he said.

Mr. Daniels said the goal of the program is to have specially trained agents in the field during the hot summer months to find people lost in the desert more quickly and provide them with life-saving assistance. "What we are trying to do is to cut down, or in a perfect world, be able to entirely eliminate death from occurring from the smugglers abandoning the migrants who are crossing," he said.

In all, there will be 260 additional agents working the 560-kilometer section of Arizona/Mexico border for the next several months. This will bring the total to around 2,000. In addition, the federal government will deploy four helicopters and some more fixed-wing aircraft in the region.

After border enforcement was increased at major urban areas, primarily in California and Texas, in the mid-1990's, immigrant smugglers began using remote desert trails along the Arizona border. The smugglers often leave immigrants on their own once they are across and some are not prepared for the hot, arid conditions there. Last year, the federal government recorded 151 migrant deaths in the sector, but some independent counts exceed 200 deaths.

There were more than 400,000 apprehensions of illegal entrants in the southern Arizona area last year. Arizona-based Border Patrol agents accounted for almost 40 percent of the total illegal immigrant apprehensions nationwide.