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California's Gatekeeper project under fire


Critics say success numbers are false

August 23, 1996
Web posted at: 4:15 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Greg LaMotte

SAN YSIDRO, California (CNN) -- Ask just about any border patrol agent about the battle to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into this country and he'll likely tell you it amounts to a game of cat-and-mouse. Illegals are caught, detained and then escorted back across the border, only to return another day to try again.


Traditionally, the nation's biggest port of entry for illegals has been the border between San Diego County and Tijuana, Mexico. Two years ago, the federal government spent $50 million building a 14-mile-long fence, and added a thousand border patrol agents to the area in a project dubbed "Operation Gatekeeper."

The Gatekeeper project was just one major effort last year among many aiming to cut down on illegal immigrant entry to the United States. Early on, it was heralded as a huge success. Now, the operation is under investigation by the Justice Department.

"There are a number of allegations that suggest that data that has been gathered is not legitimate, or that certain numbers, including the numbers of apprehensions of illegal aliens, have been minimized in order to suggest that Operation Gatekeeper has been more successful than it, in fact, has been," said Michael Bromwich of the Justice Department. (210K AIFF or WAV sound)

people walking

The allegations are backed up by U.S. border patrol agents, who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity. "When a field operations supervisor saw my report that 150 aliens got away through a particular corridor, he changed the numbers," said one. "He just erased the last digit and makes it 15."

Change in traffic

The idea is that fewer apprehensions suggest fewer illegals are attempting to enter the country. Under this logic, Gatekeeper would be viewed as a successful program. However, even if the allegations of fraud are false, Gatekeeper has probably not been that successful in preventing immigrants from coming into the United States, according to T.J. Bonner of the National Border Patrol Council.

"Prior to Operation Gatekeeper, several thousand people would cross through the San Diego sector on a daily basis, principally during the hours of darkness. That has not changed at all," Bonner said. "They have shifted the traffic, 10, perhaps 15 miles to the east, but the levels are just as high, if not higher."

Another border patrol agent told CNN that shifting the immigration patterns, as Bonner had described, was the whole point of the project.

"Operation Gatekeeper is designed to move the aliens to the east. I've been told, after making several arrest reports, that I needed to start showing that the aliens were entering east of where they actually entered from. That would show that they are being moved east," the agent said.


Johnnie Williams, the head of the San Diego operation, refused to discuss the Justice Department probe. He insists Operation Gatekeeper is extremely successful. However, when asked whether the operation had actually cut the amount of illegal immigration into the United States, he wouldn't come out and say so.

fence out to ocean

Instead, Williams said he was so happy about its success that "I have difficulty in standing here. I want to do somersaults, turn on Roman candles and light fireworks because of the progress that's made. Record progress was made in the busiest corridor of illegal migration this country has to offer." (156K AIFF or WAV sound)

"Am I here to tell you that we're done in the San Diego sector? I'm not standing here today and telling you we've finished our entire sector."


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