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Our opinion: Strive to open the checkpoints

May 23, 2001

For more than a year the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints on Highway 86 and Highway 111 in Imperial County have been closed because of a lack of personnel and a policy that focuses all resources on a forward deployment along the border fences.

Border Patrol officials are supportive of the on-the-line effort ands they say it works. We have no reason to dispute such findings. However, as Border Patrol officials concede, the checkpoints are an important part of the effort to contain illegal immigration and drug trafficking. So we urge the Border Patrol to get those stations running again as soon as possible.

We are pleased to hear from El Centro Sector Chief Kenneth Stitt that he is working to get the stations manned within 18 months while maintaining the forward deployment. Stitt seemed to speak earnestly recently when he said he realizes the checkpoints are a key part of the effort and he wants the stations manned.

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It is crucial to have the checkpoints manned 24 hours a day as one more deterrent to illegal immigration and the movement of drugs through the Imperial Valley. The checkpoints create a strong containment area in which those attempting to cross the border illegally, or those who smuggle people and drugs, know that just because they make it past the front line does not mean they are home free.

The checkpoints may only have added up about 4,000 arrests to local totals in a period that saw upward of 200,000 arrests, but those 4,000 apprehensions did send a message that freedom had not been gained once the border was crossed.

That is not to say it is easy to cross now. The effort to stop illegal immigration at the border fence is making a difference, particularly in those areas that mix both a strong force of personnel with high technology. With more technology, such as video cameras posted on poles along the border, the numbers of people trying to cross the border will continue to shrink.

Still, we think the most effective way to operate is to have both a large force at the line and the checkpoints manned.

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