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TURNAROUND: Mexico may lure graduation revelers, but officers ready to keep party legal

June 15, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

As local high school seniors graduate tonight, at least a few young people will consider celebrating across the border in Mexicali.

That is exactly what those in law enforcement plan to stop through Operation Turnaround — a joint law enforcement effort aimed at making sure those under age 18 celebrate legally on this side of the border.

The county Sheriff's Office, U.S. Customs Service, county Probation Department and the Calexico Police Department will screen vehicles crossing the border from 6 p.m. Friday to 2 a.m. Saturday.

Sheriff's Chief Deputy Jim Burns said the goal of Operation Turnaround is to help parents know where their children are and to keep young people as safe as possible.

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He said it is against the law for those under age 18 to cross the border without written, notarized permission from their parents.

Authorities will be stationed throughout the night and into the morning about 150 yards from the border.

Those trying to cross will be questioned. If they have written, notarized permission from their parents to cross, they might be allowed to but not necessarily.

Calexico police Sgt. Armando Marquez said authorities will have cell phones and could call to validate a parent's signature.

Marquez said if youths are with a responsible adult other than their parents they may be allowed to cross, but authorities will decide who counts as a responsible adult.

He added authorities likely will call parents to check whether they will permit their children to cross the border with the adults.

Marquez said the only way youths can be certain they will be allowed to cross the border is if they are doing so with their parents.

"We are trying to prevent them from getting into trouble with authorities (in Mexicali)," Marquez said, adding he thinks the operation could save lives.

Operation Turnaround was started about two years ago and lets those in law enforcement share resources during times such as graduations when a large number of youths will attempt to cross the border to drink or engage in other activities.

Burns described the effort as an "immediate" deterrent in that it prevents an "x" number of youths from crossing the border.

As many as 100 young people have been stopped from crossing the border on given nights during past operations.

County Chief Probation Officer Mike Kelley said, "We are trying to prevent deaths and uncertain futures for young people. We don't want anyone to go over there to celebrate and have the beginning of their life end in tragedy."

Kelley said the Probation Department will have officers at each of the graduations tonight as another safety measure.

Probation officers were at the Central Union and Southwest high school graduations in El Centro on Thursday.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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