SUNLAND PARK, N.M. (AP) _ By some accounts, Joe Mitotes lives in a danger zone, a desert stalked by train robbers and drug traffickers who brazenly cross the U.S.-Mexico border to plunder their victims and ply their trade.

Yet he feels Sunland Park is safe, and he doesn't see how it could be made any more secure by a 1.3-mile-long steel fence that the U.S. Border Patrol began constructing Tuesday along the frontier.

``I don't think it's going to contribute anything, really,'' said Mitotes, who lives just a half-mile from Mexico. ``Nobody has ever bothered me. As far as the people that come across the border, they never bother.''

The Border Patrol, however, says the $150,000 fence is needed to help authorities deter illegal immigration and control crimes committed by Mexican gangs who regularly loot U.S. trains that pass just yards from the border.

The fence will be the first of its kind in New Mexico. Similar barriers have been constructed along the border in Arizona and California.

Authorities say problems also spill over into Sunland Park, which suffers burglaries and larcenies attributed to criminals slipping into the United States from nearby Anapra, a section of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The region became particularly volatile after the Border Patrol blockaded a section of the Rio Grande in nearby El Paso, Texas, pushing many illegal crossers west into New Mexico, authorities have said.

``It's a problem area, to make a long story short,'' Border Patrol spokesman Doug Mosier said. ``We hope this fence will generally make the area more manageable.''

Once completed in about a month, the 10-foot-high fence will seal off a desert plain bordered by a steep mesa and Mount Cristo Rey, a craggy mountain with a large cross on its summit.

Mosier said the fence will funnel illegal immigrants to rougher terrain outside town, where they will be easier to apprehend, while also making it harder for criminals to come and go as they do now.

Police Chief Lalo Medina said he is grateful for the assistance the fence will provide, although he noted that border crossers account for only a small portion of the crime committed in the town of 10,000.

``I'm delighted,'' Medina said.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic.

Residents like Mitote said they don't believe the fence is necessary.

``We believe the (law enforcement) vigilance is enough,'' said Juan Salayandia.

Still, these residents don't necessarily oppose it.

But others, particularly immigration activists who have opposed the idea of a fence since it was first broached in 1993, are crying foul. They said Mexicans would take it as an insult, and they were right.

``It's contradictory to the climate of cooperation and friendship that has been developing between the United States and Mexico,'' said Manuel Hernandez, spokesman for the Mexican Consulate in El Paso. ``It sends a very negative message.''

Hernandez noted that Mexican officials had suggested that since U.S. authorities were worried about the train robberies, they should construct a fence along the tracks.

The Border Patrol did modify its original plan to build a wall of steel plates in Sunland Park.

But a steel wall may yet appear. Mosier said if the mesh fence is ineffective, it may be replaced by a ``more formidable'' barrier.