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INS applauds Bush's proposed budget that includes more local agents and equipment

April 12, 2001|By JESSICA ROCHA, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Agency officials said Tuesday they were pleased with President Bush's proposed Immigration and Naturalization Service budget, which would fund more Border Patrol personnel and equipment in El Centro as well as construction money for the area's new patrol station building.

"I think on balance we're pleased with the level of support we're given from the administration and the recognition of the importance of our work," said Greg Gagne, spokesman for the INS in Washington. "All budgets are kind of a tradeoff between what you would ideally like to have and what the political realities are."

Bush's budget recommendation for fiscal 2002, which begins Oct. 1, included $75 million for 570 new Border Patrol agents, mostly for southeastern California, Arizona and Texas.

"We obviously welcome the new manpower," said Manuel Figueroa, spokesman for the El Centro Border Patrol sector.

The El Centro sector, which includes El Centro, Riverside, Calexico and Indio stations, hired 40 additional agents this year, bringing the number of agents to 504, Figueroa said.

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Congress set a goal of hiring 5,000 Border Patrol agents between 1997 and 2001, which would bring the number of agents on the northern and southern borders up to 11,000.

David Dhillon, executive director of El Centro's Project for Immigrant Lives, said while he applauds Bush's proposal, he would like to see a guest-worker program enacted. That program would provide temporary authorization for workers from other countries to work legally in the United States for a set period.

"The more agents that are out there, the more lives will be saved," Dhillon said. "But people are still going to die unless this country adopts a guest-worker program."

Michael Harrison, spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, who represents the Imperial Valley, said Hunter was happy with the increased funding for more Border Patrol agents.

"We're going to work to get as many assigned to El Centro sector as possible," Harrison said.

Bush's proposal also would allocate $20 million for technology upgrades, part of which Figueroa said would go to a high-tech camera surveillance system in the desert and farmland surrounding the Imperial Valley.

Specifically mentioned in the budget was the $6.05 million for construction of the El Centro Border Patrol station and another $3 million for security improvements for the El Centro detention center.

Figueroa said plans for the new station have been in the works and that groundwork for the new building is finished.

"We've been working out of a trailer since 1986," he said. "Hopefully by the end of next year we can get those guys out of there."

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