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June 26, 2000

INS Intensifies Life-Saving Measures Along the Southwest Border

WASHINGTON – Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Doris Meissner and U.S. Border Patrol Chief Gustavo De La Viña today announced plans to intensify safety efforts to reduce injuries and prevent fatalities along the Southwest border.

The new measures are designed to ensure that all Border Patrol agents on the Southwest border have appropriate safety training. They include the development of swift-water rescue training programs in sectors where agents patrol along rivers and canals.

"Protecting our borders includes the obligation to protect lives. Since its launch two years ago, the Border Safety Initiative has greatly strengthened our ability to meet this obligation," said Meissner, noting that more than 2,000 migrants have been rescued from life-threatening situations since the initiative’s inception in June 1998. "We must continue to build and redouble safety efforts because just one death is one too many."

The Border Safety Initiative, developed in close cooperation with Mexican officials, is designed to educate migrants about the risks and dangers of crossing the border illegally and to assist those who do not heed the warnings. It has three elements: prevention, search and rescue and identification.

The Initiative draws on longstanding public safety measures practiced locally by the Border Patrol along the Southwest border. "With this foundation, we have developed an aggressive borderwide safety program," said Chief De La Viña. He added, "Our goal is to further strengthen this program by continuing to heighten training and awareness among all agents, from Brownsville to Imperial Beach, of the dangers migrants face."

INS is enhancing the current initiative by focusing on agent training. In addition to specialized training programs for rescues in swift waters, the Border Patrol sectors are also establishing refresher programs in CPR and advanced emergency first aid, subjects taught to all agents during basic training. The Border Safety Initiative is being incorporated into the operational plan of each station on the Southwest border so that safety is incorporated into all operational decisions.

In accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mexican Government, INS will participate in joint training exercises with their Mexican counterparts in order to keep agents on both sides of the border prepared and trained in public safety measures. INS and the Mexican Government will continue to share critical information and where appropriate, equipment that will allow both governments to increase public safety along the border.

Border Patrol sectors are continuing their outreach efforts to warn migrants of the dangers of crossing the border illegally through local public service announcements that are aired in the border region in both the United States and Mexico. Posters that warn would-be crossers about the dangers of putting their lives into the hands of smugglers are being placed in highly visible areas in INS facilities in the hopes that the message will reach migrants who may be considering using a smuggler to bring family members across the border illegally.

"Intensifying our focus on public safety is critical, especially as we move into the summer months when the dangers associated with illegal crossings rise with the temperature," Chief De La Viña said.

These initiatives build on actions INS has already taken to increase the safety of the border region. As part of the Border Safety Initiative, INS has:

  • Developed and implemented a comprehensive methodology for tracking migrant deaths and rescues;
  • Mapped dangerous crossing points and developed reports outlining where deaths and injuries occur;
  • Deployed technology and personnel to cover especially hazardous areas;
  • Worked with Mexican officials to place warning signs at major transportation areas and especially dangerous crossing points;
  • Expanded the coordination of public information efforts with U.S. and Mexican media outlets to warn would-be crossers about dangerous crossing points;
  • Developed formal agreement with Mexican officials on the schedules for returns of migrants to Mexico with special provisions for children and women;
  • Equipped all vehicles with extra water and coolers;
  • Developed toll-free numbers in the United States for anyone to call INS if they see migrants who may be in danger and in need of rescue; and
  • Worked with Mexican consuls, local medical examiners and INS officials to establish border-wide procedures to identify the deceased.

– INS –


INS Fact Sheet

June 26, 2000

INS Border Safety Initiative

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Doris Meissner first announced the INS Border Safety Initiative, an aggressive strategy designed to make the border safer for migrants, officers and border residents, in June 1998. The initiative has three elements: prevention, search and rescue and identification. Since that announcement, the U.S. Border Patrol (the uniformed enforcement arm of INS charged with protecting the nation’s borders) has implemented a number of safety measures:

Prevention — Working with Mexican officials to identify dangerous crossing points along the entire Southwest border and address safety problems.

  • INS is monitoring and reporting data on border deaths, analyzing the data and taking steps to address safety problems. For example, in response to the high number of migrant drownings in the All-American Canal in the El Centro area, INS put up warning signs, lighting and increased Border Patrol agent staffing.
  • INS deployed more personnel to hazardous crossing points along the border. Border Patrol agents were deployed to eastern San Diego County; the All-American Canal; the desert regions of Imperial County, California; and the Yuma, Arizona region. These are areas that have been identified as the most hazardous areas, based on historical data of alien deaths.
  • In a coordinated effort, Mexican Consuls have arranged for warning signs to be posted in Mexico much like the warning signs posted by the INS in dangerous areas along the U.S. border.
  • INS expanded and coordinated public service announcements along the border where migrants are located to warn them about the hazards in crossing the border illegally. Efforts included national public service announcements developed in conjunction with the Mexican government and news releases for U.S. and Mexican newspapers, as well as radio and television spots. All nine Southwest border sectors have developed and implemented media campaigns on border safety. Some include messages warning about the risks of dealing with alien smugglers.
  • INS continued its media outreach efforts to Mexico and Central America through telephone press conferences and television broadcasts. For example, in April, national Border Patrol Chief Gus de la Viña held a televised press conference on border safety sponsored by the Department of State with Mexican government officials and media.

Search and Rescue Targeting hazardous areas where migrants may become lost, abandoned or in distress due to the difficult terrain and the willingness of smugglers to lead them into dangerous territory.

  • Several Border Patrol sectors have developed local toll-free hotlines for people to call if they believe friends or relatives who recently crossed the border may be in danger so that INS can initiate a search/rescue. INS is working to expand the hotline network.
  • Border Patrol vehicles are equipped with extra water, electrolyte drinks and medical trauma bags to assist migrants found in the desert suffering from dehydration and/or hypothermia.
  • Many Border Patrol agents have specialized training in water rescue techniques and all Border Patrol vehicles that patrol along or near canals and rivers are equipped with water rescue equipment.
  • INS is working to ensure that all Border Patrol agents have advanced first-aid training. Many Border Patrol agents have completed optional Emergency Medical Technician training to better enable them to aid an injured migrant. In addition, INS is setting up refresher training in CPR and emergency first aid, subjects taught to all Border Patrol Agents during basic training.

Identification Establishing procedures and resources to help officials to both identify migrants who die attempting to cross the border and contact surviving family members. Of the 114 deaths reported through the first eight months of FY 2000, 39 percent of the victims were unidentified.

  • INS border officials are working with Mexican Consuls and local medical examiners to share information to identify deceased individuals.
  • INS is working closely with the Texas Association of Counties to provide assistance when they encounter deceased individuals by helping to preserve the crime scene.

— INS —