Wednesday, May 19, 2004

TUCSON, Ariz. — A $10 million initiative aimed at gaining “operational control” of the Arizona-Mexico border includes a lofty laundry list of program goals, including antiterrorism and the dismantling of a flourishing alien-smuggling network.

But the man who heads the program is confident it will succeed.

“We will take whatever appropriate enforcement action is necessary to confront, interdict, arrest and detain all those who would attempt to cross this border illegally,” said David V. Aguilar, chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, the busiest in the country.

“We know what’s coming before it gets to us and it is imperative we confront and interdict it. This is serious business, and by bringing together all the resources we can, we are determined to make a difference,” said Chief Aguilar, named last week to head the Border Patrol out of its Washington, D.C., headquarters, effective July 1.

The Arizona Border Control Initiative, the first of its kind, seeks to confront and confound terrorists; detect, arrest and deter all cross-border illicit trafficking; significantly reduce the ability of alien smugglers to operate along the Southwest border; and put a stop to the rising rate of violent crime throughout Arizona, particularly in Phoenix.

The smuggling of aliens across the Arizona desert has spawned a lucrative and violent industry that charges between $1,500 and $2,000 a person to be guided into the United States.

Chief Aguilar said the program builds on the combined assets of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Transportation Security Administration, the Interior Department and other federal law-enforcement agencies, including the tribal police at the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation on the Arizona-Mexico border.

Dozens of state and local police and prosecutors, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, are involved. Another key provision is an increase in the capacity of detention and removal facilities along the Southwestern border.

“This is a very important partnership of law enforcement and government agencies, who have come together for operational planning purposes in a joint effort to make the most effective use of resources to secure our nation’s border,” said Chief Aguilar in an interview at his Tucson office.

He said 260 additional Border Patrol agents will be deployed along the Tucson sector’s 260 miles of international border, where more than 400,000 illegal aliens were arrested last year — about 1,100 a day. He said the manpower increase will supplement the 2,000 agents already on patrol in the Tucson sector.

Sixty of those agents have been specially trained in search, rescue and remote tactical operations for use in the Arizona desert to search for illegal aliens who get lost or are injured, he said.

Chief Aguilar, a veteran Border Patrol agent who has headed the Tucson sector since 1999, said unmanned aerial vehicles, known as UAVs, also will be used to increase border-surveillance activities, and that additional helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft also will be deployed. The UAVs are expected to be airborne by early next month.

Nearly $1 million in new sensor technology also will be deployed, along with seven air-conditioned tents costing about $2 million to temporarily house more than 300 detainees, along with buses to transport them to permanent detention centers.

The initiative is designed as a follow-up to last year’s “Operation ICE Storm,” a Department of Homeland Security program that sought to identify, detain and prosecute alien smugglers who used Phoenix as a base of operations.

Beginning in October, ICE Storm resulted in more than 2,059 criminal and administrative arrests, 162 indictments, as well as the seizure of 86 assault weapons and nearly $2.5 million in illicit cash. Phoenix police have credited ICE Storm with a more than 30 percent drop in homicides in the Phoenix area in the last quarter of 2003.

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