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Consul urges Mexico to focus on New River precautions

August 01, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

After a weekend in which four bodies were found in the New River, Rita Vargas, Mexican consul in Calexico, said she wants to see Mexican forces focus more on keeping people out of the disease-filled waterway.

Vargas said Tuesday it is unusual to have so many deaths in the river in such a short period and said there needs to be immediate action to prevent further deaths.

She said while the U.S. Border Patrol is doing what it can on this side of the border, she wants to see Mexican authorities focus more patrols on the river.

"What we have to do is have some changes on the Mexican side," she said, adding, "We have to deploy some safety measures immediately."

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Vargas said she planned to meet with Mexican authorities Tuesday to discuss what action might be possible to keep people out of the river. Results of her meeting with Mexican authorities was unavailable this morning.

Vargas said the spot where people are entering the New River is on Mexican federal land.

She said that should make it possible for authorities to take some action, but she added it is difficult to patrol the entire border. Vargas added smugglers are smart and know how to take advantage of the border to avoid authorities on both sides.

Still, Vargas is calling for the Mexicali police, Grupo Beta — a police unit that focuses on border crime — and the Mexican fiscal police focus patrols on the river area.

"It has to help," she said.

According to the county Coroner's Office, five people — all thought to be undocumented immigrants — died in the New River in July

One death occurred toward the beginning of the month. The bodies of two more people, a man and a woman, were found in the river Friday. Two other bodies, also those of a man and a woman, were found in the river Sunday.

It was unknown by investigators whether any of the deaths are connected.

The recent deaths in the river occurred shortly after federal authorities on both sides of the border declared the New River and All-American Canal as high-risk waterways.

That declaration included talks of having authorities on both sides of the border work more closely together to increase safety.

By being declared high-risk zones, U.S. authorities said it will mean more resources will be provided to the Valley to curtail illegal immigration and keep people out of the desert and the waterways.

U.S. Border Patrol officials have said the New River is a popular route among illegal immigrants because the river can be accessed in Mexicali. Immigrants then float down the river into the Imperial Valley, following the river for miles as it snakes through the Valley toward the Salton Sea.

The Border Patrol has a policy of agents not going into the river because of the different disease pathogens in it.

Agents have said the immigrants know agents won't try to retrieve them out of the river, which is another reason they use the river.

Border Patrol officials have talked about placing a device that could be lowered into the river to block the route when immigrants are seen trying to enter the country.

However, officials have said they are only starting to talk about such a device and it would not become a reality for some time.

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

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