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Our Opinion: Do lifelines right

March 31, 2001

San Diego-area businessman John Hunter deserves credit for trying to do something to save illegal immigrant lives. Last year he put water stations in the desert. Now he wants to put even more. He also wants to place lifelines across the All-American Canal — one every mile — to lessen drownings.

Still, Hunter was way off base in comments during a recent Project for Immigrant Lives meeting in which he claimed lack of movement by the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors was costing lives. That people die in the canal is not the fault of IID or any local government agency. It is simply the kind of tragedy that can occur when people try to cross illegally into this country.

Hunter is wrong to question the IID board's efforts to make sure the lifelines are put up correctly. It seems the money IID has received from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will not be enough to do the project. That may not please Hunter, who wants to see the lines put up quickly and who thinks the work can be done by volunteers, but that is a fact.


IID has committed to the project. The board has said it wants to save lives and is willing to try Hunter's idea. That doesn't mean the project should be done in a fast, shoddy manner. If the district needs to spend some time determining the best way to put in the lines, it should do so. It is going to be IID that will be sued if the lines do not work, not Hunter.

And if the work is going to cost more than early estimates, we certainly hope the IID board does not decide to spend the district's money for that. Board members have said if the project is going to cost more than expected, IID staffers should go back to the Bureau of Reclamation and seek more money.

We have our concerns about the lifelines. We question whether they truly will be "lifelines" or whether they will give people a false sense of safety when it comes to trying to cross the canal. The All-American is a dangerous stretch of water and people are risking their lives when they try to cross, even if there are lifelines in place. We think the setup might exponentially encourage more people to try to illegally cross the canal, which will mean more deaths, particularly with the lifelines a mile apart.

We also think there could be an increase in other illegal border activity brought by the lines.

Still, Hunter has at least come up with an idea to make people take a close look at a serious issue. Now he needs to give the IID board a chance to do what it needs to do to make sure the lines have the best chance to work.

More can be accomplished if Hunter works with the board than against it.

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