Attorney General Prepared Remarks
BORSTAR Field Demonstration San Diego, California [NOTE: THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OFTEN DEVIATES FROM PREPARED REMARKS] July 23, 2001
Strengthening border management is yet another sign of the unprecedented level of cooperation that characterizes the relationship between the United States and Mexico today. When Presidents Bush and Fox met in Guanajuato, Mexico in February, they announced the creation of a high-level working group to address migration issues. This group, which I co-chair, has been very active since its first meeting in April. One of our chief concerns is how to improve safety along our shared boundary. Both the United States and Mexico recognize that protecting the border includes an obligation to protect lives, particularly the lives of those being put in harm's way by smugglers. Neither government can fulfill this obligation alone.
In 1998, the United States and Mexico launched a Border Safety Initiative that aims to educate the public about the dangers of illegal crossings and to enhance our ability to rescue those who fail to heed these warnings. U.S. border patrol agents from all nine sectors that cover the Southwest Border recently met with their Mexican counterparts to focus exclusively on border safety issues. One of the important steps agreed to in these meetings was expanding the number of BORSTAR teams along the Southwest border.
Currently, we have BORSTAR teams in San Diego and Tucson. When the agents here today graduate next week, we will have enough trained personnel to establish teams in El Centro and Yuma and to lay the foundation for teams in two sectors in Texas. A second training session tentatively scheduled to begin in September will allow us to meet our goal of establishing a BORSTAR team in every sector along the border.
Although every sector already has search and rescue capabilities, a BORSTAR team allows sectors to respond faster to emergency situations under a greater variety of conditions. BORSTAR team members receive extensive training in search and rescue techniques, navigation, medical treatment, and communications. Already, the special training and exemplary dedication of these men and women are resulting in saved lives along the Southwest border.
In May the San Diego BORSTAR team successfully performed a daring helicopter rescue of an injured individual trapped in the rugged terrain on the East Side of Tecate Peak. BORSTAR agents were forced to hike in to the injured man and perform what is called a "litter extraction." An agent accompanied the victim as he was air-lifted out in a basket suspended from a helicopter. It was later determined that the man had sustained internal injuries and, were it not for the timely rescue of the BORSTAR team, he may have died as a result.
Just last month specially trained BORSTAR agents used a helicopter to rappel into the remote area of the Otay Mountains to rescue a men who had spent seven days crawling through the thick brush with a seriously injured leg. It is doubtful that the victim, who was severely dehydrated, would have survived much longer after the BORSTAR team reached him. Expansion of the BORSTAR teams will allow these kinds of rescues to continue without compromising border protection.
In addition it will allow us meet another goal expanded training with Mexico. Last year, team members shared their expertise with more than 400 Mexican law enforcement officials. This year, we are fully committed to increasing that number. Joint training not only results in better-trained agents, it also fosters mutual trust. Improved border safety requires both these elements.
The steps we've taken so far to enhance public safety along the border have produced dramatic results. Here in the San Diego Sector, for example, agents have rescued 300 migrants so far this year - more than double the number rescued in all of last year. Border agents are called on to play many roles. I recognize that the job of providing border safety is a challenge in addition to the many you confront every day. I congratulate you on accepting this challenge. And I thank you -- and your country thanks you -- for answering yet again the call to duty.