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US Border Patrol Steps up Efforts to Police Mexican Border - 2004-05-18

Part 1 of 5

The U.S. Border Patrol is implementing a new initiative on the Mexico border with the state of Arizona called simply "Arizona Border Control." This is in response to the massive human smuggling operations that have moved to this desert area in recent years and the deaths of hundreds of migrants who get lost in the harsh terrain without sufficient water. The new law enforcement effort is not being hailed by everyone.

The head of the Tucson sector Border Patrol operation, David Aguilar sees the Arizona Border Control operation as at least partly a humanitarian effort to stop immigrants from dying in the desert. ?What is causing these deaths, what is causing these people to fall into distress is the criminal operatives, the criminal organizations that are looking to bypass our enforcement efforts,? he said.

Mr. Aguilar, who will soon take over as national director of the agency in Washington, said that the beefed up enforcement here in Arizona will undoubtedly send smugglers and illegal immigrants to other points on the border. However, he added that the Border Patrol is trying to stop them wherever they go.

?One of the major areas that we are taking into account under the Arizona Border Control initiative is not only bringing a focus to the areas of the border where we had not focused before, could not because of lack of resources, but also concurrent with that is being vigilant in other parts of the country and other areas so that when a trend starts developing we are responsive in a reactive and preferably, in a proactive manner, to go out and mitigate those traffic levels that are out there,? he noted.

To tighten their grip on the Arizona border, by June 1, more than 200 agents will be sent to the area to augment the 18 hundred already there. More electronic sensors are being placed at strategic locations to detect intruders and two unmanned aerial vehicles, similar to the ones being used by the military in Afghanistan and Iraq, are being deployed over the border. Mr. Aguilar said that these drones will provide for much faster and more efficient response when a sensor detects movement on the ground.

?By launching an unmanned aerial vehicle that has the capacity to put eyes on that sensor and see what set it off, we will now be able to make a determination of whether our interest is there,? he said. ?We will now be able to see whether the person or persons are armed. We will be able to make a determination as to how many people or individuals set that off. We will be able to gage our response more appropriately.?

But not everyone in Tucson and the border region applauds this new initiative. Various religious and human rights groups who work with immigrants argue that increased enforcement will only lead to more misery and deaths.

Ray Rodriguez is with the Pima County Interfaith Council, a group that includes representatives from all major churches and synagogues in the Tucson area. ?We have to welcome the stranger,? he said. ?People have rights to come to wherever they want to better themselves if their country is not providing that.?

Since Mexico and many other Latin American nations are not producing good jobs for their growing populations, Rodriguez says, it is only natural that people from there seek jobs here in the United States. He notes that the immigrants who toil in the hot Arizona sun installing roofs, for example, are doing work most citizens and legal residents would not do.

?No one else is going to do the roofing jobs that more than likely the recent arrival is going to do,? he explained. ?Construction is another area. We Americans, for whatever reason, do not take that type of work. We do not like that working outside. They are also taking manufacturing jobs. They are very good workers and they are reliable. They are dependable. They came here for the purpose of work.?

Mr. Rodriguez and others who work with immigrants here say tightening security at the border will not hold back the human tide and that the only answer is comprehensive immigration reform.

They are countered, however, by many others in this border region who say too many immigrants are already here. They are criticizing the U.S. government for not doing more to seal the border and some have even started their own patrols along the border. These groups are watching the current Border Patrol operation with interest and offering to do what they can to support it.