Border Patrol agents will multiply and unmanned aircraft will scan the desert for illegal immigrants under a new effort officials said Tuesday would bring "operational control" to the Arizona-Mexico border.
With Blackhawk helicopters and jets as a backdrop, federal and local officials at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson said the new approach should help curb immigrant smuggling in the Valley, where numerous drop houses filled with illegals have been located in the past year.
"It’s overdue, but we’re delighted to see it today," said Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz. "People have gotten tired with the environmental degradation and the strain on health care and other resources."
The $10 million Arizona Border Control Initiative includes:
• An unspecified number of unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the border starting in June.
• The addition of 200 permanent agents in the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, bringing the total number of agents there to about 2,000.
• Temporary deployment in Arizona of 60 Border Patrol agents who are specially trained in search and rescue.
• The transfer of four Customs and Border Protection helicopters to Arizona.
• Funding for six new federal prosecutor positions in Arizona.
• An expansion of detention facility space in Florence.
David Aguilar, head of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, will lead the initiative and report directly to Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Officials said the program will involve greater cooperation among local, tribal and federal agencies. More help from the Mexican government is also being sought, officials said. However, one plan requiring the help of Mexican officials — the transport of detained illegal immigrants back to their homes in the interior of Mexico — is still stuck in negotiations, said Phillip Crawford, field office director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Currently, immigrants are dropped off at the border, where they are free to meet up again with smugglers and attempt another border crossing.
Gus De La Vina, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, said two weeks ago that the United States had "a shot at sealing the border" between Arizona and Mexico this year. Hutchinson backed away from that comment Tuesday, saying the new effort was aimed at achieving "operational control" of the border.
The term "speaks for itself," Hutchinson said, without elaborating. "I’m not going to give you a number (of border crossers) we are going to impact because of our enforcement efforts," he said. "The people of Arizona will know when we have effective operational control."