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Activists Say ‘Operation Gatekeeper’s‘ Legacy Is Death, 25 Years After It Began

Immigrant advocates hold a press conference marking the 25h anniversary of

Photo by Max Rivlin-Nadler

Above: Immigrant advocates hold a press conference marking the 25h anniversary of "Operation Gatekeeper," Sept. 30, 2019

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Tuesday marked the 25th Anniversary of “Operation Gatekeeper,” which increased border security in San Diego county. Border arrests dropped in San Diego but thousands have died in the mountains and desert, trying to evade the Border Patrol.

Aired: October 2, 2019 | Transcript

Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of “Operation Gatekeeper,” which increased border security in San Diego county. While border arrests dropped in San Diego afterward, thousands have since died in the mountains and desert, trying to evade the Border Patrol.

“Operation Gatekeeper” started as a Clinton-administration response to the more than 500,000 border arrests made in San Diego county every year during the early 1990s.

As part of the program, Vietnam War-era landing mats were stacked upright along the border. And places where people could cross the border freely were manned by Border Patrol agents and placed under high-tech surveillance.

Tuesday, in Chicano Park, immigrant advocacy groups marked the anniversary by highlighting one of the largest effects of "Operation Gatekeeper" — the thousands of migrants who still tried to cross into the US but did it through remote parts of the desert.

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Andi Dukleth

More than 8,000 of those migrants, and perhaps many more, have died there since then.

Stephanie Ortiz works with the group Aguilas Del Desierto, which looks for migrants stranded in the desert. Her own family was touched by tragedy.

RELATED: Death At The Border: Danger Stalks Search Group In The Desert

“My uncle was a resident of Oceanside, and he had a challenging immigration status. He wanted to visit his mom and dad in Mexico, and on his way back, him and my other uncle didn’t make it,” Ortiz told KPBS. “It’s so common. People not withstanding the terrain anymore. It’s not a day or two, it’s more than ten. People don’t bring enough water to hike that long.”

Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent who has become a critic of Operation Gatekeeper, felt that it redirected the agency away from its original mission.

“I think we’re always going to need law enforcement along the border,” Budd told KPBS. “And there’s always going to be a need to rescue people in the desert and so forth. But overwhelmingly we need more of a humanitarian aspect and an asylum aspect."

At the press conference, advocates called for more resources to be given to ports of entry, so people can be processed and assisted more quickly at the border.

They believe this would eliminate the need for people to cross dangerous terrain as so many have in the past 25 years, since the start of Operation Gatekeeper.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

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