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Ashcroft praises agents

more help on the way

July 25, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Standing near a dusty bank of the All-American Canal, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft saluted four U.S. Border Patrol Agents who saved the lives of drowning illegal immigrants and announced programs that could make rescuing immigrants from the border-area canal easier for agents.

He stopped short of endorsing a proposal to string "lifelines" across the canal, which he called a "high-risk zone."

"There are a lot of proposals. I'm not here to announce proposals. I'm here to commend performance," Ashcroft said.

He said any proposal would have to be "evaluated, considered and then adopted by professionals."

Ashcroft said the canal is "placid in appearance but deadly for those who attempt to cross and are taken under by the swift undertow."

To address that danger and help aid rescues, Ashcroft said the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has agreed to deploy additional resources on the canal.

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The INS will add 100 high-powered lights along a 10-mile stretch, according to Ashcroft.

Ashcroft said an elite U.S. Border Patrol BORSTAR unit will be stationed in El Centro and Yuma in the near future. BORSTAR stands for Border Search, Trauma and Rescue. Currently, there are only BORSTAR units in San Diego and Tucson.

Ashcroft said he wants to double that commitment and envisions BORSTAR units "in every sector on the border."

While he acknowledged the El Centro Border Patrol station already has a search and rescue team, he said a BORSTAR team will "respond faster to emergency situations and a variety of conditions."

He said the U.S. has the responsibility of protecting the border to protect the lives of those put in harm's way by smugglers and rescue those who fail to heed the warnings about the dangers of crossing the border illegally.

He saluted Border Patrol agents, who "put themselves in positions of danger so the rest of us can live in positions of safety" and said the agents help preserve a "safe, orderly border."

He praised the cooperation between U.S and Mexico and said the relationship between President Vicente Fox and President Bush should mean even more cooperation.

When he arrived at the awards ceremony, the first thing Ashcroft did was shake the hands of the four award-winning Border Patrol agents — Randall Roberts, Joyce Yeakley, Michael Olsen and Richard Clark.

"I'm honored to be associated with you," he told the agents, whom he would later honor with certificates of appreciation.

Claudia Smith, an attorney with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, said she by no means wants to denigrate the search and rescue work of the agents but said there is a terrible irony in decision-makers, notably Ashcroft, pursuing policies that put migrants in mortal harm and then trying to take credit for lifesaving efforts.

"We heard that he was giving out certificates so we had blown- up death certificates to give him because there have been hundreds of migrants dead on his watch," Smith said.

She said Ashcroft's "border security talk" is really double-speak.

"When you look at the budgets it is clear that nobody in the Bush administration is going to back off from the deadly strategy," Smith said.

She contends Border Patrol strategy is forcing immigrants into ever more remote and dangerous areas.

"Their ultimate strategy is to create a funnel effect from Texas and California to push people into the Arizona desert. They might have thought that is a deterrent but clearly it isn't," Smith said.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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