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 July 7, 2000

 Border Patrol Enhancing Border Safety in Tucson

Seven Additional Aircraft Deployed as Part of Operation Sky Watch

 TUCSON — The Immigration and Naturalization Service today announced the launch of Operation Sky Watch as part of the agency’s intensified border safety measures in the Tucson Sector. The deployment of seven additional airplanes to patrol the border to identify migrants in distress and deter illegal crossings begins today. 

"This is the deadliest time of the year here, and we are committed to doing everything we can to prevent any more people from dying in the desert," said U.S. Border Patrol Chief Gustavo De La Viña, who announced the initiative here. "The need to enhance safety is particularly acute here in the Tucson Sector, now the busiest illegal-crossing corridor along the Southwest border." 

Chief De La Viña stressed that the majority of deaths are directly related to smugglers leading groups of aliens through treacherous terrain and exposing them to the extreme climatic conditions of the west desert area. "As the temperature rises, so do the risks to migrants. Tucson Sector has 22 percent of all Southwest border deaths, and 46 percent of those are heat related. That’s why we are intensifying our safety efforts."

 The seven planes, on loan from Border Patrol sectors around the country for three months, will expand the Sector’s fleet to a total of 16 aircraft, which includes seven helicopters. The new aircraft will be used for surveillance in desert areas. Ground units will respond to help migrants in distress or apprehend those trying to enter illegally.

 So far this year, Border Patrol agents have rescued more than 846 migrants in the Tucson Sector alone. Many of these migrants were found suffering from dehydration, hunger and heat stroke. Some had been injured on their journey, or assaulted and left for dead by bandits, while others had been abandoned by smugglers when they were unable to keep up with the rest of the group.

 "Safety is our highest priority," said Chief De La Viña. "We are focusing our resources where they are most needed to help ensure the safety of everyone along the border–the residents, the agents and the migrants."

 "Our mission to control the border carries with it an obligation to protect lives; these planes will add tremendously to our ability to do both," said Tucson Border Patrol Sector Chief David Aguilar.

 — INS —