Ashcroft will visit Valley during tour

July 22, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft will visit the Imperial Valley on Tuesday as part of a whirlwind tour of the Southwest border area, federal officials confirmed Friday.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Ashcroft's visit will focus on immigration and migrant safety issues.

The attorney general's tour will start Monday in San Diego and he is expected to arrive in the Imperial Valley at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

He will visit the Calexico area, specifically along the All-American Canal, which recently was classified by officials on both sides of the border as a high-risk waterway because of its use by immigrants.

Later that day Ashcroft will visit with Border Patrol officials in Yuma.

Accompanying him on the tours will be representatives of the Mexican government.

Lauren Mack, public affairs officer for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, said Ashcroft's visit is related to recent Border Safety Initiative meetings.


As part of those meetings, authorities from both sides of the border have discussed ways to make the border safer for those who guard the border and for those who attempt to cross it illegally.

Earlier this summer, officials met in El Centro to discuss those issues.

During that meeting the All-American and the New River were declared high-risk zones for migrants. The meeting also led to a vow to increase lighting along the waterways, add resources and increase training.

Authorities also said there would be binational training for U.S. and Mexican authorities who patrol the border.

The dangers of illegal immigration came into focus nationally earlier this summer when some 14 immigrants died in the Yuma area after spending five days in the Arizona desert where temperatures topped 115 degrees.

Before that, however, President Bush had placed some focus on immigration issues. His first foreign trip was to Mexico to meet President Vicente Fox.

Bush also assigned Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell to work on a panel with Mexican officials to discuss issues related to immigration.

Mack said Ashcroft's tour of the Valley comes as Bush and Fox prepare for a September meeting to discuss immigration policies.

A number of immigrants have died this summer in the Imperial Valley attempting to either cross through the desert or swim across the All-American into the United States.

Imperial County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Rick Macken, the chief deputy coroner, said this summer there have been at least 30 deaths related to either drowning or heat exposure.

He said the number of drownings is down, but deaths due to environmental exposure are up over last year.

Macken said a visit by a federal official such as Ashcroft brings more exposure to the issue.

He said perhaps the interest generated by Ashcroft's visit can lead to more action and more answers to the issue of illegal immigration.

The Associated Press provided some information for this story.

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

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