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Part of Calif. Deadiest Border Crossing

November 30, 2001

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A 70-mile stretch of the Southern California desert has retained its grim designation as the nation’s deadliest transit point for illegal immigrants.

Ninety deaths occurred in the El Centro area during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, equaling the record number of deaths there in 1998, even as apprehensions fell, the Border Patrol said Thursday.

The second-highest, with 78 fatalities, was the Tucson sector, a stretch of border four times as long.

In El Centro in the southeastern corner of California, the desert offers little protection from exposure, and dozens of immigrants drown each year in a network of fast-moving agricultural canals.

Agent Dionicio Delgado, a Border Patrol spokesman, also blames immigrant smugglers who mislead people about how long it takes to walk through the desert and who abandon those who fall behind.

``The smuggler ... has a pace to keep and he doesn’t care how many people he leaves behind,″ Delgado told The Associated Press. ``It’s just a money game for him.″

Along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, 322 immigrants died compared to 370 the previous fiscal year, the agency said.

Immigrant advocates have argued that the U.S. strategy of heavy patrols around urban areas drives people to risk their lives by trying to cross in more remote and perilous regions.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has responded with a border safety initiative, including warnings about the hazards and the creation of emergency rescue teams.

Apprehensions dropped all along the border. Agents in the El Centro area apprehended 172,862 in the past year, a 27 percent drop from 2000.

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On the Net:

http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/index.htm

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