- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

More than 6,200 aliens caught crossing into the United States last month in the remote desert regions of Arizona, where more than 150 immigrants died last year, have been returned to more populated areas of Mexico in a pilot program aimed at saving lives and slowing illegal immigration.

The month-long program, known as “Lateral Repatriation,” resulted in an 18 percent decline in the number of apprehensions in the Tucson sector by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents — the country’s most active illegal-alien-crossing area — and just a single reported death, compared with 10 during the same period in 2002.

CBP spokesman Bill Anthony yesterday said 6,239 illegal aliens apprehended between Sept. 8 and Sept. 30 in the desert of southern Arizona, 95 percent of whom were from the interior of Mexico, were returned to four Texas sectors — El Paso, Laredo, Del Rio and McAllen — where they were handed over to Mexican authorities.

“The program, a humanitarian effort, was designed to accomplish two things: Save lives and reduce the number of illegal immigrants who make another attempt to cross into the United States after being apprehended and returned to Mexico,” Mr. Anthony said. “It achieved both goals.”

The four Texas sectors were selected because each has more than 1,000 CBP agents assigned and border enforcement efforts in those regions have significantly reduced the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States over the past four years.

The Tucson sector makes more than 1,100 arrests of illegal aliens every day.

Illegal immigrants identified as criminal aliens or others subject to prosecution, along with unaccompanied minors, were not included in the project. Family groups also were excluded.

Mr. Anthony noted that prior to the start of the program, which was part of the agency’s Border Safety Initiative and Operation Desert Safeguard, the Tucson sector averaged the death of one illegal alien per day, many of whom died during the brutal summer months trying to cross the sparsely populated and rugged desert regions of southern Arizona.

The CBP spokesman said the program sought to remove those who entered the United States illegally from the high-risk desert areas of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, which has claimed the lives of more than 400 people since 1999, to the low-risk, populated regions along the Texas/Mexico border.

He also said many alien smugglers had moved their operations to southern Arizona, particularly regions south of Tucson and Douglas, and had subjected illegal immigrants to the dangers of the desert because of massive border enforcement upgrades in Texas and California, which resulted in increased apprehensions.

The pilot program, which has ended, also sought to see whether it could be successful in breaking up established relationships between the illegal aliens and the smugglers, hundreds of whom have surfaced because of sky-rocketing profits in escorting illegal immigrants through the Arizona desert into the United States.

CBP officials are now evaluating the program to determine if it should be permanent.

Initially, CBP sought to return Mexican nationals to areas closer to their homes on a voluntary basis and at U.S. government expense, but the Mexican government — during preliminary discussions — rejected the proposal.

Mexican officials argued that the program violated human rights and was a strain on the “good relations we have had with the United States in talks on the migration issue.”

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