- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

The U.S. Border Patrol says an increase in the number of people who die trying to cross the desert to enter the United States illegally is expected as summer temperatures rise, and efforts are being made to ask the Mexican media to warn would-be crossers of the dangers involved.

“As the summer approaches, it is important that the people understand the seriousness of the situation,” said Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar. “The temperatures are deadly, the terrain is unforgiving, and the risks are real. People that do not understand the situation or do not heed the warnings will face reality which too often results in unnecessary and tragic situations.”

Last year, 473 persons died on the Southwest border — a record number of deaths. Since Oct. 1, the Border Patrol reported 210 deaths — 43 more than the same period a year ago. The western desert of Arizona accounted for more than 56 percent of the total number of deaths.

Chief Aguilar said alien smugglers, charging an average of $1,500 to $2,000 a person to cross into the United States, “routinely prey on the desperation of undocumented migrants, callously lead aliens into harm’s way.” In an effort to prevent heat-related deaths, he said, the Border Patrol has increased its search and rescue efforts.

Since Oct. 1, the Border Patrol’s Search, Trauma and Rescue team, known as Borstar, has rescued 1,887 persons — an increase of 49 percent or 620 more than last year.

“The Border Patrol will continue its efforts on reducing the number of heat-related deaths and remain steadfast in its commitment to securing the border,” the chief said.

In an effort to reduce the number of deaths, the agency has implemented a program known as the Border Safety Initiative (BSI), whose two main objectives are to reduce injuries and prevent deaths in the southwest border region. Begun in 1998, the program seeks to “educate and inform” would-be border crossers of the dangers and hazards involved and to respond to those who are in life-threatening situations.

The BSI has four major goals:

• Prevention — Working with Mexican officials to identify dangerous crossing points along the entire southwest border, discouraging illegal crossings and addressing safety problems.

• Search and rescue — Targeting hazardous areas where migrants may become lost, abandoned or in distress because of difficult terrain and the willingness of smugglers to lead aliens into dangerous territory.

• Identification — Establishing procedures and deploying resources to help officials identify those who have died attempting to cross the border illegally through our target zones.

• Tracking and recording — The BSI Tracking System is the main repository for data collected on BSI-related deaths and rescues for reporting and analysis.

“Smugglers and human traffickers are criminals who have no regard for human life,” Chief Aguilar said.

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