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Focus on border canyons nets 1,500 migrants in two weeks
Released 04 March 2005  By ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN The Associated Press

A U.S. Border Patrol operation targeting immigrant smuggling in rugged mountainous border canyons west of Nogales snared 1,500 illegal immigrants and $1.8 million worth of marijuana in two weeks.

Operation Cherrypicker, which started Feb. 13 and ended Saturday, focused on activity in three canyons favored by smuggling groups south of Arivaca in Coronado National Forest, Border Patrol spokesman Andy Adame said yesterday.

"In past years in January and February, we have always seen a major increase in the number of illegal entries in the area," Adame said. "So we put together an operation to address the issue."

The operation, centered west of Tres Bellotes Ranch, employed helicopter units, additional ground sensors, horse patrols and special response agents embedded in Sierra, Majanera and Agua Cercada canyons to look for smuggling activity.

Arizona has been the border's busiest crossing location in recent years, as increased enforcement elsewhere has forced immigrants into more remote locations.

Almost all of the stopped traffic in the recent operation was on foot, although several vehicles loaded with narcotics crossed through the area.

The canyons have no roads and are densely packed with oak woodland chaparral and mesquite, Adame said.

Agents arrested as many as 360 illegal immigrants in a single day and seized 2,360 pounds of marijuana - including 257 pounds and two horses and riders on Feb. 21 and 1,879 pounds on Wednesday.

"We've reached the goals that we had," Adame said. "Our goals were to move traffic out of those very rugged and remote areas into the outlying areas that were easier to work, and at this point, that seems to be accomplished."

The north-south direction of the targeted canyons made it easier for smugglers to move people and narcotics up from the border, Adame said.

Eighteen agents from the Border Patrol's Nogales horse patrol unit were the primary agents because of limited road access, Adame said.

Ten special response team agents who camped out to do surveillance reported what they saw to the horse patrols.

A Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement helicopter was in the air at all times during the operation, Adame said.

Apprehended immigrants were walked out of the roadless areas, up to an hour away, and taken by Border Patrol vans to rendezvous points from where ICE buses drove them to detention facilities, Adame said.

Scaled-back patrols are continuing in the canyons, he said.

The Associated Press
March 1, 2005

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