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ENVIRONMENTALISTS
HANDCUFF BORDER PATROL

Rey Garza speaks out


 The U.S. Border Patrol's aggressive efforts to stem illegal immigration and cut crime along the Texas-Mexican border have been a resounding success. In the last two years, Operation Rio Grande, the agency's high-tech interdiction effort, has cut the number of illegal aliens attempting to cross the border from 216,000 in 1996 to less than 160,000 in 1999 along a 200-mile stretch of the Rio Grande River. If it weren't for the operation, Border Patrol officials estimate that there would have been 350,000 illegal aliens attempting to cross the border in 1999. In addition, in just one year, crime in Brownsville dropped 45 percent.

However, if environmentalists have their way, all of these gains will be negated.

The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Audubon Society plan to file a lawsuit to put a halt to the Border Patrol's use of critical interdiction technology the groups claim pose a threat to endangered species. These groups argue that the agency's use of high-powered lights, which prevent border crossings under the cover of night, also disrupts the habits of the ocelot and jaguarundi, two nocturnal-oriented wildcats on the endangered species list.

"We feel the Immigration and Naturalization Service can accomplish its job without the floodlight and fences and with far less intrusive technologies that have no impact on wildlife," says Jim Chapman of the Sierra Club.

Not so, says the Border Patrol. Border Patrol assistant chief Rey Garza says that, "Taking away the lights will negate everything." The Rio Grande River is pitch black, making it an obvious haven for illegal aliens and drug criminals. Garza says that Border Patrol officers have been stabbed and shot trying to do their job on its murky banks. By installing permanent and mobile light fixtures along targeted sections of the river, the Border Patrol's ability to catch criminals and illegal aliens has increased dramatically. Says officer Garza, "the lights have proven to be a powerful deterrent."

The environmentalists' planned lawsuit especially frustrates Border Patrol officials. They had already agreed to not place their high-tech equipment in U.S. Fish and Wildlife sanctuaries in an attempt to address environmental concerns - even though those sanctuaries have become refuges for illegal aliens.
Source: U.S. Border Patrol

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