The draft assessment prepared by INS engineers does not mention any adverse effects associated with the proposed banks of permanent lighting structures.
INS engineers contend the lights would create a safer environment for agents and illegal entrants.
For the past few years California Rural Legal Assistance attorneys have accused the INS and U.S. Border Patrol of driving border-crossers into more dangerous areas of the border. CRLA and others have pinned the blame on government agencies for the hundreds of illegal immigrants found dead in remote desert and mountain areas every year.
Following Ashcroft's visit, Claudia Smith of the CRLA said, "Migrant advocates call border safety an oxymoron, considering that the Bush administration has no intention of backing off from its predecessor's strategy, i.e., ‘redirecting' the migrant foot traffic out of the border cities and into ever more remote and punishing places."
Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform countered Smith's contentions.
Group spokesman Ira Mehlman said, "They're not forcing anyone. People choose to go out there. The role of the INS and Border Patrol is to secure as much border as we can where traffic is the greatest. The responsibility is on the part of the people trying to break the law to not put themselves in dangerous situations."
Regarding the lights proposal, Mehlman said, "We have always been in favor of lights. We're in favor of anything that makes it more difficult for people to get across without being detected. In addition to other measures it could be a deterrent."
When asked to elaborate on "other measures," Mehlman said, "We need to make it clear to people that they aren't going to get access to benefits here. For years we have focused resources on the border. By doing so we've told immigrants, ‘If you can get past the border you're home free.'"
>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org