Attorney General Prepared Remarks
Border Tour Finale Yuma, Arizona [NOTE: THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OFTEN DEVIATES FROM PREPARED REMARKS] July 24, 2001
Good morning. I have just finished my second tour of the Southwest border, part of an ongoing effort to gain a better understanding of the complex mission of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
What I have seen since Monday has truly impressed me - particularly the dedication of the men and women who sacrifice everyday to protect the border and to ensure the safety of those living and traveling along it. I will be returning to Washington more convinced than ever that the Bush Administration can and will fulfill its commitment to establish and maintain a safe, orderly border. Not just here in Yuma, but along its entire length - from Brownsville to San Diego.
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 has been how to improve safety along our shared boundary. This concern arises out of our mutual recognition 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.
The deaths that occurred near Wellton in late May underscore the pressing need to improve border safety. After leading a group of Mexican nationals into the United States, smugglers abandoned them, instructing the group to walk "a couple of hours" to a highway that was actually 30 miles away. Fourteen of them never made it out of the searing desert.
As tragic as this incident was, it could have been worse. Fortunately, Border Patrol agents on patrol encountered four sunburned survivors, a discovery that spurred a three-day search that resulted in the rescue of eight others. Agents from four different sectors were joined in the search by members of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Yuma County Sheriff's Office.
I was honored to meet these heroes just a few minutes ago. They worked around the clock, often risking their own safety, to ensure that all those who had been abandoned were accounted for. Through their efforts, they demonstrated that at the end of the long arm of the law there is a helping hand.
This incident highlighted the value of the Border Patrol's Search, Trauma, and Rescue Teams. Without the participation of the Tucson Sector's BORSTAR team in this search, the death toll would have risen. The team members' specialized training in search and rescue techniques, navigation, medical treatment, and communications made them invaluable.
The importance of having specialized search-and-rescue teams, such as those in Tucson and San Diego, is recognized by officials on both sides of the border. During a recent series of local-level meetings that focused exclusively on border safety issues, the chief patrol agents from the nine sectors that cover the Southwest border and their Mexican counterparts agreed to expand the number of BORSTAR teams.
The goal is to establish a team in each of the nine sectors along the Southwest border. Currently, 33 agents are receiving training in San Diego, and, when they graduate next week, we will have enough personnel to establish teams here in Yuma and in El Centro. A second training session tentatively scheduled to begin in September will allow us to meet our goal of a team in every sector.
As we expand the number of BORSTAR teams we will also be able to expand our joint training with Mexico. Last year, BORSTAR 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. And for our border to be safer, more secure and more orderly, we must have both these elements.
In addition to proper training, agents also need proper equipment. To this end, the Yuma Sector has just deployed its first Huey helicopter. This aircraft is a very valuable addition to the Sector's fleet because of its effectiveness in rescue work, especially in remote, rugged terrain.
A strong foundation for improving border safety is now in place, and I look forward to building on it with our partners. 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.