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Ashcroft wraps up border tour, defends policy

Says more personnel needed

Daniel Gonzalez
The Arizona Republic
May. 8, 2001

TUCSON - U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft praised the work of Border Patrol agents and defended U.S. immigration policy Monday as he ended his first trip to the Southwestern border.

Ashcroft said his experiences during the four-day tour, which included stops in Arizona (Douglas) and Texas (El Paso and Brownsville), left him better prepared to discuss immigration and border issues later this month with high-level officials in Mexico.

Above all, Ashcroft said, he was impressed by the level of cooperation between Mexico and the United States in maintaining an orderly border and by the high priority placed on safety by the Border Patrol.

"Border safety has been a matter that frankly has had a transcending presence in every aspect of what we've done," said Ashcroft, who singled out the work of six agents assigned to the Tucson sector in saving lives.

Ashcroft cited a sharp decrease in the number of migrants attempting to cross the border illegally as evidence that a massive buildup of personnel and technology along the border is working.

Despite the decrease, more personnel and resources are needed, he said.

"While we have made major progress along the border, we still have some completion of that strategic implementation to take place," Ashcroft said. "And we don't think that in order to complete that responsibility we can do it with the current staffing levels."

President Bush is asking Congress for $75 million to add 570 Border Patrol agents each of the next two years. He is also asking for $50 million to help local law enforcement agencies offset costs associated with illegal immigration and $46 million to build or improve Border Patrol facilities.

"If you had visited with me the facility in Douglas yesterday, you would have seen how cramped and how difficult it is for the various agencies working there together to be able to operate," Ashcroft said.

About a dozen protesters greeted the attorney general's motorcade outside the Tucson Border Patrol Station with signs that read, "INS Policy Kills" and "Don't make war in the desert."

"We are here to protest vigilantism and a border policy that is deadly," said Doralina Luna, a member of the Tucson human rights group Derechos Humanos. "They are pushing people to cross areas that are very dangerous."

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