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Border Patrol to Train 800 Agents at Alabama Base

Times Staff Writer

U. S. immigration authorities have reached an agreement that will allow them to train 800 new Border Patrol agents at an Alabama military base, a move designed to increase patrol staffing by a third in San Diego and elsewhere along the Mexican border.

The plan reflects the Reagan Administration’s longstanding commitment to bolster border enforcement, but it is also a direct outgrowth of the sweeping immigration reforms approved by Congress in 1986.

The San Diego area, which houses the nation’s single largest patrol contingent, with more than 600 agents, is expected to receive the largest number of new officers--more than 200.

“It will give us a lot greater effectiveness in our coverage,” said Marshall Mehlos, assistant chief patrol agent in San Diego.

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Third and Final Component

The buildup is considered the third and final component of the “three pronged” approach to reducing illegal immigration that was mandated by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The other elements are the amnesty program for some undocumented residents and the new legal penalties against employers who hire illegal aliens.

“This is kind of the final building block,” said Charles Huffman, chief patrol agent at the Border Patrol training academy in Glynco, Ga., where new agents are trained in a specially designed 18-week course.

Federal authorities have sought more space because the Georgia facility is not equipped to handle the huge influx of agents expected to come on line in the coming months. The first class at the new facility, at Ft. McClellan, is scheduled to begin Oct. 3.

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The Border Patrol buildup, called the largest ever in patrol history, is designed to make it more difficult for illegal aliens to enter the United States via the notoriously porous, 1,952-mile border, which stretches from the Pacific Coast to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Arrests of illegal aliens have declined since reaching record levels in 1986, but thousands of would-be immigrants continue to attempt to enter the United States clandestinely, with San Diego the single most popular entry point.

The planned patrol increase would bolster the force nationwide by more than a third, adding some 1,100 agents to the existing nationwide force of 3,200, authorities said. The 800 agents to be trained at Ft. McClellan are to be joined by about 300 trained at the Georgia facility. All should be on line at the border by next June.

Expanded in 1985

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The latest buildup adds to a force that was already expanded by about 1,000 agents in fiscal 1985, when concern about an “invasion” of illegal aliens was peaking.

Immigration authorities have agreed to reimburse the Army for use of the Ft. McClellan space, although exact terms were not available. Congress has already earmarked funds for the expansion.

The great majority of Border Patrol agents are posted along the U.S.-Mexico border in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The patrol is a uniformed and armed enforcement branch of the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Green-uniformed agents are a common sight in border areas, patrolling on foot, on horseback, in assorted ground vehicles and in aircraft.

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Agents check airports, buses, trains and other forms of transportation leaving border regions, and also operate regular checkpoints on northbound roads, such as the stop just south of San Clemente along Interstate 5.

Rights advocates have often alleged that the patrol has harassed Hispanics, both legal and illegal U. S. residents. But patrol officials have defended their record, maintaining that the allegations are greatly exaggerated.


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