- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

HOUSTON The chief U.S. Border Patrol agent said yesterday that the government has a responsibility to protect Mexican citizens who are illegally crossing into the United States.

Speaking at a forum at the 73rd annual convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), David V. Aguilar said that the recent deaths of illegal migrants in Arizona presented a "challenge" to both the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol, which is an agency of the INS.

"There are 17 water stations placed out there by well-meaning individuals and humanitarian organizations," Mr. Aguilar said, referring to water tanks that have been placed by pro-immigration and religious groups in remote areas of the vast desert south of Tucson, which is home to the Coronado National Forest.

"That is all there is for that entire range. The temperature there today is 140 degrees. It is impossible to survive."

Mr. Aguilar is the chief patrol agent for 281 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border. The region is now the most heavily traveled by illegal Mexican citizens coming into the United States to gain employment and sometimes education and social welfare benefits and medical care.

"We have had 350 rescues since March," Mr. Aguilar said. "We now have [emergency rescue] crews in each sector who are trained to deploy in these areas. Our mission is to control the border and with it the obligation to protect lives."

Twenty-one persons have died since June 6 trying to cross through and around the Coronado National Forest, a 1.8 million-acre range in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.

The Mexican government says 1,980 persons have perished since 1995 crossing that region; U.S. figures show that 1,370 have died in that time period.

Mr. Aguilar said his agents have rescued both illegal immigrants primarily brought into the United States by what are referred to in Mexico as "coyotes," or smugglers and drug traffickers.

"We are adamant that a person makes a conscious decision to come in, but not to go through the most treacherous area of the United States," he said. "And the vast majority of the people we do rescue have been brought in by these smugglers."

Some immigration reform advocates insisted yesterday that the primary mission of the Border Patrol is not to provide humanitarian assistance to illegal aliens but to police the U.S.-Mexico border. Some, however, said common humanitarian concerns would compel helping anyone in deadly peril, such as dying of thirst.

The top priority of the Border Patrol should be the prevention of illegal crossings, said Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports legal immigration. "That has to take precedence," Mr. Camarota said. "But if they do come across people who are in trouble, well, we are a great and caring nation, and we should be helping. However, the illegal alien is responsible for his own actions."

According to INS guidelines, the Border Patrol as the mobile uniformed branch of the INS has as its mission the detection and prevention of smuggling and the illegal entry of aliens into the United States.

Patrol agents perform their duties along and in the vicinity of the 8,000 miles of United States boundaries. Agents patrol by means of automobile, boat, aircraft, horseback, snowmobile, motorcycle, bicycle and on foot.

The guidelines say the agents are responsible for "safely and humanely detaining, transporting, processing and supervising illegal aliens awaiting removal or other disposition of their cases."

Public service announcements in Mexico have warned residents of the dangers of the Coronado crossing area.

The broadcast spots are narrated by Mexican celebrities and scroll a list of the deceased, warning that there is no water in the region for those seeking to enter the United States illegally.

A member of Mexican President Vicente Fox's Cabinet said his country was trying to stem the flow of illegal aliens into the United States and has cut the number of those attempting to emigrate by 40 percent.

But Felipe de Jesus Coronado, who is part of an immigrant rescue task force, said, "If we cannot stop them, then what we want to do is get them to cross in areas that are not so remote and dangerous."

He said the Mexican government is building observation towers that will allow the Mexican military, which has posts on the border, to observe illegal immigrants crossing into the United States.

Mr. Fox's government has added two federal prosecutors to try cases against smugglers, said Eduardo Ibarrola Nicolin, a Mexican ambassador to the United States based in Houston. Mr. Fox will address the group, which claims more than a hundred thousand members, by satellite Friday evening.

Other speakers include Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat.

Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel and former Texas secretary of state, is scheduled to speak today, along with Mel Martinez, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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