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Cochise now flashpoint for tensions on border

May 12, 2000

Top Border Patrol officials are in Tucson today to announce the arrival of 100 more agents and technology for beleaguered Cochise County, which is being overrun by illegal immigrants.

The announcement comes a day before a meeting in Sierra Vista of angry residents and an anti-immigration group from California.

Separately, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted this week to request Gov. Jane Hull dispatch National Guard troops to Cochise County to provide support to patrol agents.

"Our residents are basically living in fear for themselves and their property," said Cochise County Administrator Jody Klein.

The governor already has indicated she is opposed to bringing in the Guard.

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Gus De La Viña, Tucson Patrol Chief David Aguilar, and other officials are expected to announce today that more temporary agents will be assigned to Douglas and Naco.

In addition, 100 new agents will come on duty in the region in the next four months, and new technology and equipment will be added.

Five-hundred-fifty agents, including some on temporary assignment, are already in Douglas and Naco.

"I think it is significant," Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said of the additional resources.

"I think it will make a difference. It's not window dressing," she said.

Cochise County supervisors this week also asked the county attorney for advice in filing a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to control illegal immigration through the county.

Anger is mounting in Cochise County as residents cope with record numbers of illegal crossings.

In March, patrol agents apprehended more than 30,000 immigrants in the Douglas area alone, and an additional 12,000 in Naco.

Aguilar met with Cochise County officials at a special meeting Wednesday in Bisbee to discuss border problems.

"The board called the meeting because of concerns that the entire county is being inundated not only with persons, but with junk and debris," Klein said.

At the meeting, Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said the Sheriff's Department has handled nearly 1,000 calls related to illegal crossings since February.

Those calls include requests for deputies, 911 calls, and information reporting the suspected movement of illegal immigrant groups.

"Although there has been a significant increase in Border Patrol agents assigned to the Douglas and Naco substations, the problem still has not abated," Dever said. "Virtually everyone who resides here has been impacted."

The California Coalition for Immigration Reform will meet with residents in Sierra Vista at 6 tomorrow night at the Windemere Hotel.

Not all residents agree with the focus of the meeting.

'As a Hispanic and resident of Cochise County, I believe that the importation of racists from other parts of the country to deal with our national problem is only adding to a problem that is reaching a boiling point," resident Ed Wagner said in a statement faxed to the media.

"It is only a matter of time before someone dies, when words like war, retaliation and killing are used," he said.