Homeland security secretary launches California crackdown on immigrant smugglers
- U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff speaks at a news conference held at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, as Matt Bettenhausen, director of the California Office of Homeland Security, left, Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif. ,center, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., right, look on in San Diego on Thursday.
By: ELLIOT SPAGAT - Associated Press
SAN DIEGO -- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Thursday declared a crackdown on migrant smugglers at two California border crossings, even as the federal government increasingly focuses border enforcement in Arizona.
Chertoff said he didn't have a precise dollar figure on how much would be spent on the crackdown at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa crossings in San Diego, across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. He said the effort will result in more prosecutions of smugglers and more jail space to accommodate them. It also involves deploying canines trained to detect illegal crossers.
Agents detected 60,000 illegal crossings attempts last year at San Ysidro and in the Otay Mesa passenger lanes, Chertoff said. He said smugglers once stuffed a bottle-sucking baby inside a gasoline tank and crammed 200-pound woman into the dashboard of a small car.
"It is remarkable the lengths to which smugglers will go to try to get people into this country," Chertoff said at a news conference. "They simply want to make money at the expense of human misery."
In a potentially controversial twist, Chertoff said state and local officials would participate in the crackdown. Proponents of tougher enforcement have long advocated a larger role for local law enforcement, but critics say local agencies should stick to fighting crime, not enforcing immigration laws.
Matt Bettenhausen, director of California's Office of Homeland Security, said state agencies including the California Highway Patrol would share information with federal authorities.
"We're not going to be specifically enforcing immigration laws," Bettenhausen said, appearing alongside Chertoff.
Arizona surpassed California as the nation's busiest corridor for illegal immigrants after a crackdown in the California that was launched in the 1990s. Border Patrol arrests in the San Diego sector plummeted to about 110,000 last year from 528,000 in 1995. Arizona, meanwhile, accounted for more than half the Border Patrol's 1.1 million arrests last year.
Chertoff declined to comment on last week's death of a Mexican man shot while sneaking across the border in San Diego by a Border Patrol agent. A Border Patrol spokesman has said Guillermo Martinez Rodriguez, 18, was a longtime migrant smuggler and that the agent fired in self-defense after someone threw a large rock.
The shooting has sparked outrage in Mexico. President Vicente Fox has demanded that the United States provide "a rapid and complete explanation."
While declining to discuss specifics of the shooting, Chertoff noted there has been a sharp increase in attacks on Border Patrol agents.
"Anybody who assaults a Border Patrol or law enforcement agent is asking for trouble," he said.