The Mexican staging area for illegal aliens that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson demanded this week be bulldozed is among hundreds of similar sites along the border sponsored and maintained by the Mexican government.
Many of the sites are marked with blue flags and pennants to signal that water is available. Others, such as the Las Chepas site that Mr. Richardson denounced, are a collection of old, mostly abandoned buildings or ranch houses where illegals gather for water and other supplies — sometimes bartering with smugglers, or “coyotes,” for passage north.
Las Chepas, law-enforcement authorities said, also is a center for drug smugglers looking to move marijuana and cocaine into the United States.
Rafael Laveaga, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, yesterday said his government “has a duty and obligation by law to protect Mexican citizens at home and abroad.”
He said record high temperatures in the desert areas south of New Mexico and Arizona this year had resulted in the death of many illegal aliens.
“We try to spread the word on the dangerous conditions these people will face in the desert, along with reports of historically high temperatures,” he said. “What we are doing is part of an effort to prevent those deaths.”
Many of the Mexican aid stations are maintained by Grupo Beta, a Mexican governmentfunded humanitarian organization founded in the early 1990s. Driving through the desert regions south of the border in brightly painted orange trucks, Grupo Beta’s job is to protect migrants along the border, not arrest them.
In April, Grupo Beta worked with the Mexican military and the Sonora State Preventive Police to move would-be illegal aliens out of the desert areas just south of the U.S. border to locations east and west of Naco, Ariz., to avoid the Minuteman Project volunteers holding a vigil on the border.
A branch of Mexico’s National Migration Institute, Grupo Beta also helped pass out fliers warning migrants that the Minuteman volunteers, whom they described as “armed vigilantes,” were waiting across the border to hurt them.
In addition to the aid stations, the Mexican government has distributed more than a million copies of a 32-page handbook advising migrants how to cross into the United States. The book, known as “Guia del Migrante Mexicano,” or “Guide for the Mexican Migrant,” contains tips on avoiding apprehension by U.S. authorities.
Aid stations for illegal aliens also exist in the United States, many of them established and supplied by various humanitarian organizations such as Humane Borders, a Tucson faith-based group that targets illegal aliens who the organization said might otherwise die in the desert.
Humane Borders, established in 2001, has 70 water stations along the U.S. side of the border, each with two 50-gallon tanks next to a 30-foot-mast with a blue flag.
Many are on well-traveled migrant routes. Others have been placed, with permission, on property owned by Pima County, Ariz.; the National Park Service; the Bureau of Land Management; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Another U.S. group, known as No More Deaths, set up an aid camp last month near Arivaca, Ariz., helping stranded border-crossers with food, water and medical assistance. The Ark of the Covenant camp will remain in operation through September.
The group has received much of its support from Presbyterian churches in Arizona and elsewhere. Last year, 500 volunteers — including doctors and nurses — took part in a similar camp. A second camp has been established on the Mexican side of the border, across from Douglas, Ariz., also sponsored by No More Deaths and a Mexican group that operates drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation centers.
More than 110 illegal aliens have died in Arizona’s desert this year.
Mr. Richardson, in declaring a state of emergency in four New Mexico counties because of rising immigration, border violence and drug smuggling, called on the Mexican government to bulldoze Las Chepas, across the border from Columbus, N.M.
The state of Chihuahua responded by calling for increased dialogue to improve security in the region, saying it would “offer all the support we can to continue our good relationship with our northern neighbor.”
The Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat said Mr. Richardson’s declaration did not “jibe with the spirit of cooperation and understanding” and called for a meeting to promote “appropriate actions.”