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US, Mexico Agree to Tighten Security Along Border - 2004-02-21

The United States and Mexico have agreed Friday to tighten security along their border and start working on a program to deport illegal Mexican migrants back to their own doorsteps by bus or plane rather than leaving them at the border.

Mexico and the United States have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the safe, orderly, dignified and humane repatriation of Mexican nationals.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced the agreement at the conclusion of his two day trip to Mexico. But he stressed that this measure would only affect those illegal migrants caught crossing the border.

"The repatriation agreement we have signed, the memorandum of understanding and technical working group, is really designed to deal with migrants that we apprehend, as soon as they come across the border and that is the specific purpose of that," he said.

Mr. Ridge also explained that the bi-lateral working group will explore setting up assistance centers on the border for migrants, to get them back to their place of origin.

"If they are simply repatriated to the other side of the border which is nearly 3,000 miles long (4,828 kilometers), it will certainly be much easier for them, perhaps to use the same human traffickers and the same network to try to get across again," he said.

The U.S. official stressed that the aim is to start deportations before the onset of the searing heat of the summer which has killed hundreds of Mexicans every year who try to cross the border into the United States.

"We are fully aware that the most hazardous time in terms of crossing some of the most dangerous regions is fast approaching, and we are going to re-double our efforts to reach an agreement with regard to repatriation as soon as possible. The reality of a surge during the summer months and the need for us to reach an agreement is upon us," said Mr. Ridge .

Mr. Ridge and Mexican Interior Minister Santiago Creel, have also signed an agreement to step up border security, which will focus on migrant smuggling gangs while boosting rescue training for law and order agencies of both countries on the border, so more lives can be saved.