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Our Opinion: A sad record

August 22, 2001

In 1998, according to the U.S. Border Patrol, 90 undocumented immigrants lost their lives while trying to cross the border illegally. It was a record, a tragic one. Last year saw a slight dip in the number of immigrant deaths as 77 people lost their lives. That is still a tragedy.

We were hopeful a trend would start and the number of deaths would decrease even more this year.

That is not the proving to be the case.

This year 79 illegal immigrants have lost their lives and there is still time remaining in the federal fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 thought Sept. 30. While we can hope there will be no more such deaths, the reality is there will be more and even our best efforts cannot stop that.

One Border Patrol official said recently that if the deaths don't slow, this year's immigrant fatality totals could match those of 1998. It does not seem like the situation is about to slow. It only seems to be getting worse.

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It is sadly ironic that we are seeing more deaths when it appears there is more national focus being placed on the issue of illegal immigration than ever before. Government officials are spending a lot of time talking about the loss of life brought on by illegal immigration and even seem to be doing a bit more than talking.

More resources are coming our way in manpower and equipment. We have a new Border Patrol rescue unit here, specially trained for search and rescue missions. We are working more closely with Mexican officials to promote border safety. We know there is an ongoing, highly visible campaign in Mexico telling its citizens about the dangers of crossing the border.

Still the deaths are continuing, which easily could lead us to believe that no matter what is done, people are going to illegally try to cross the border and die in the effort. No matter how unbelievable it may be that people are willing to risk their lives in life-threatening conditions, they are willing to take that risk.

That does not mean we should give up hope that change can occur. Many of the ideas and programs being tried are good ones, and many may produce results over time. We have to continue to recognize the problem and take all steps possible to save lives, and do so binationally.

Beyond that, the Mexican government has to try to do all it can to make it possible for people to earn a living in Mexico. And we as a nation should provide as much help as we can to our friends and neighbors to the south. If the people of Mexico can support their families, they will not follow a dream of a better life on this side of the border that too often ends as a nightmare.

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