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Illegal Immigrants Setting Wildfires to Deter Law Enforcement

June 19, 2007  | 

Foreign immigrants seeking to sneak across the U.S. border illegally are setting wildfires as a means to "smoke-out" observation posts and patrol routes, therefore hindering border agents attempting to do their jobs.

The wildfires have resulted in the destruction of some of the nation's most pristine national forests and pose an ongoing threat to visitors, residents, and responding firefighters. According to law enforcement agencies, attending to and extinguishing intentionally set fires often requires the assistance of law enforcement agents, which enables armed smugglers of aliens and drugs to enter the country illegally.

For instance, in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, with 60 miles of land along the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. Forest Service firefighters sent in to battle fires or clear wild land fire areas are required to be escorted by armed law enforcement officers.

"Criminal activity by both illegal immigrants and citizens in forests near the border is a threat to members of the public trying to use their public lands and to our employees trying to manage these lands," says Tina J. Terrell, a Forest Service supervisor. "Our officers risk their lives every day to enforce the law in these remote federally managed lands."

Terrell told a House subcommittee last month that law enforcement personnel have been assaulted, threatened with weapons, and shot at, and their vehicles have been rammed by cross-border violators, but that due to the remoteness of the area and radio frequency jamming, timely assistance from other law enforcement agencies is not always possible, which in turn creates additional safety risks.

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