Desert deaths highest on record

January 11, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

The U.S. Border Patrol has announced the number of immigrant deaths for the last fiscal year has been revised to 95, up from the 89 deaths the agency initially reported.

The revision means Oct. 1, 2000 through Sept. 30, 2001 is the deadliest year in the history of the Border Patrol's El Centro sector.

Border Patrol Agent Dionicio Delgado said the revision takes into account that six people whose remains were found in November in western Imperial County likely died during the summer months.

The most deaths local Border Patrol officials had documented in one year was 90, which occurred in 1998.

Delgado said the Border Patrol has implemented new programs officials are hopeful will cut the deaths in the new year.

"We're trying to do everything possible on our part to reduce these deaths," he said.

However, he said there are factors in the Valley that lead to immigrant deaths.


For one, Delgado said, the Imperial Valley has desert terrain and waterways, both of which play a role in the deaths.

However, the blame for the deaths rests heavily with smugglers who lie to those who come from the interior of Mexico about the conditions they will face.

"The smugglers don't care," Delgado said. "It's just a business."

Delgado said immigrants who have been found in the desert during the summer have reported their smugglers told them they would just have to walk a few hours at night.

The reality is, Delgado said, those crossing the border may find themselves walking though the night and into the day when temperatures soar over 100 degrees. They may even have to walk for days through the desert, Delgado said.

To combat the lies told by smugglers, the Border Patrol has conducted a public service announcement campaign in the interior of Mexico to warn people about the dangers they will face crossing the border illegally.

Delgado said those trying to cross the border this year will find the Border Patrol has realigned its coverage to increase manpower along the border from the west part of the county to the east.

In addition, the Border Patrol's Search Trauma and Rescue team, organized as a rescue unit for those stranded in the desert and mountains, now is operating

Another team, the Mountain Disrupt Unit — formed to keep immigrants out of the mountains near Jacumba — also is in place.

Delgado said the Border Patrol has organized an all-terrain vehicle unit that will patrol the eastern part of the county near the Highline and All-American canals to keep immigrants out of the waterways.

The Border Patrol also makes use of a helicopter to patrol along the border.

For this fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, 13 illegal immigrants have died in the sector: one died as a result of the heat, one died in a vehicle accident, six drowned and five died from causes that could not be determined because of the condition of the remains.

Delgado said the busy season for the Border Patrol is just starting. He said February through May statistically are the busiest months for illegal immigration. He added it remains busy through the summer.

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

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