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Our Opinion: A regrettable record

October 04, 2001

For the fourth fiscal year in a row, the Imperial Valley has had an unenviable and tragic record. Our harsh terrain and waterways claimed more lives of illegal immigrants than anywhere else in the nation in the last federal fiscal year.

In fiscal 1998, the Border Patrol has reported, 90 immigrants died while trying to cross illegally into the country. That is the largest number of deaths the El Centro sector has seen in recent years, probably ever. This fiscal year, 89 immigrants lost their lives. The loss of one life is cause for sadness, but to see 89 people pay the ultimate price for pursuing a dream of a new and better life is a tragedy that cannot be ignored.

For the Border Patrol's new fiscal year, which will run through Sept. 30, the agency has implemented a reorganization of service areas that the El Centro and Calexico stations will be responsible for patrolling. The Border Patrol's administration is hopeful the change will save some lives. We hope the border in this area will become so tight, so seamless that smugglers will have to move their operations elsewhere.

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The difficult task facing the Border Patrol is sending a message to "coyotes," those who smuggle people across the border, that there is a good chance they will be caught. More and more human smugglers are being caught and vigorously prosecuted.

Beyond that, the United States and Mexican governments and humanitarian groups in both countries must somehow convince people they are putting their lives at risk by crossing the border here, particularly during the summer when the scalding temperatures mixed with the forbidding terrain become such a deadly combination.

But let's be realistic. Most people who look to the United States as their chance for a new life are willing to spend all the money they have to be led across the border. We do not think that is going to stop soon. We also do not think "coyotes," who have shown they care little for life, are going to stop their operations.

We can only hope the reorganization of coverage areas does what it is supposed to do, that recently stepped up efforts to prosecute coyotes makes a difference and that the administration of Mexican President Vicente Fox makes lives better in Mexico.

That's a lot of hoping, but we do see hope in this situation, which hasn't always been the case in recent years.

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