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INS News Release

June 15, 2001

U.S. and Mexico Announce Expanded Efforts to Save Migrant Lives Binational Strategy Includes Intensified Focus on High Risk Areas

TUCSON, Ariz. – Vowing to do everything possible to reduce migrant deaths and injuries, the Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol and Mexico’s Deputy Director of Protection and Consular Affairs today outlined new measures to enhance both countries’ lifesaving capabilities along Arizona’s 350-mile international border. These latest steps include the deployment of additional resources to high-risk crossing areas, closer collaboration on mapping and electronic communications, and additional binational search and rescue training. The measures are the culmination of meetings involving more than 30 representatives from both countries that wrapped up in Tucson yesterday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, who attended high-level binational meetings last month on these issues, expressed his continuing support of expanded border safety measures. “I am fully committed to a safe and orderly border – for residents, visitors and migrants,” said Ashcroft.

“These binational meetings are a crucial part of the border safety effort,” said Gustavo De La Viña, Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol. “They give us an opportunity to share ideas that will help both countries better address this challenge.”

“Both countries are committed to working to promote safe, legal, humane and orderly immigration,” said Roberto Rodriguez-Hernandez, the Deputy Director of Protection and Consular Affairs with the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In support of those efforts, De La Viña announced this morning that the Border Patrol has assigned three additional helicopters and three pilots to the Tucson Sector on a temporary basis. The new air resources expand the Sector’s fleet to a total of 12 aircraft, including 10 helicopters. The helicopters are valuable because they can take off and land in rugged terrain making them an important tool not only for surveillance but also for rescues. In addition, one of the helicopters on loan to Tucson is equipped with infrared technology, enabling the Border Patrol to carry out nighttime search and rescue operations.

The two delegations pledged to work jointly on a number of safety enhancing initiatives, including the mapping of high-risk areas and the exchange of intelligence information relating to migrant smuggling. The participants also called for work to begin on efforts to improve electronic communications capabilities between officers from the two countries.

Both delegations also agreed on the need for additional binational training to enhance the effectiveness of future joint rescue efforts. The training will focus on skills ranging from mountain rescues to water survival.

Much of that training will be overseen by members of the Border Patrol’s Search Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) team. Given the success of the BORSTAR teams in Tucson and San Diego, De La Viña announced that the BORSTAR program is being expanded to four other southern border sectors, including Yuma and El Centro. Later this month, 50 Border Patrol agents from across the Southwest will take part in search and rescue training being held in Southern California. These agents will then return to their sectors to help establish local search and rescue programs.

Meanwhile, 23 members of the Tucson Border Patrol’s seasoned BORSTAR team have been reassigned to the Sector’s Tucson Station, a move that will enable them to respond more quickly to any emergencies that arise in the west desert. As a further safety measure, the Tucson Sector has also temporarily shifted an additional 30 Border Patrol agents from the Nogales and Douglas areas to the west desert.

The border safety effort in the west desert is being further aided by an array of new equipment and technology. The Ajo Border Patrol station recently received five additional all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and two infrared night vision devices. Both the scopes and the ATVs are vital in the effort to locate and rescue migrants who may be in distress.

In addition to the equipment and technology, the Tucson Sector is also receiving an infusion of new agents. Currently, Tucson has 63 agents at the Border Patrol Academy who will be returning to the Sector early next month. More than one third of those agents will be assigned to stations responsible for patrolling the west desert.

Another crucial facet of the border safety effort is raising prospective migrants’ awareness about the dangers they may encounter crossing the border. At the meeting, the two delegations committed to work closely on future public information campaigns to improve the effectiveness of outreach efforts.

In the meantime, the Border Patrol previewed the agency’s newest Spanish-language public service announcements warning migrants about the risks of trusting smugglers and the dangers of traveling in unsafe and overloaded smuggling vehicles. One of those spots features two men who were rescued by the Border Patrol after a smuggler abandoned them in the Arizona desert. Both men vow never to trust a smuggler again. “This is the border. This is the truth,” the narrator’s voice intones.

– INS –