Perhaps the public should be relieved that only one car was grazed and nobody was maimed or killed by the time a Border Patrol chase ended with the arrest of five suspects in Irvine last week. But there must be a better way to stem illegal immigration than to take such chances on the freeways of Southern California and to put motorists at such risk.
The 300-mile highway patrol chase that ended with an out-of-gas murder suspect shot to death in Westminster Friday is another matter entirely. After all, there's no comparing a shotgun killer on the loose to a clutch of illegal immigrants.
The border patrol chase originated on Interstate 5 near San Clemente, where two men suspected of ferrying three immigrants into the country allegedly ran the checkpoint at San Onofre and led authorities on a heart-stopping race into the heart of Orange County. Fortunately, traffic was light during the late-morning cops-and-robbers-style chase.
Border Patrol authorities say the length of the chase was unusual, but one has to wonder whether even a much shorter pursuit would have offered any safety for those brought by fate into the path of the speeding vehicles.
It is remarkable, in fact, that the Border Patrol can maintain seriously that it tries to conduct such chases with maximum caution, even as it acknowledged that the cars hit speeds of up to 90 m.p.h. on the interstate. If one of those vehicles had spun out of control, heaven help those who shared the road.
Fortunately, the suspects eventually were apprehended after crashing into a curb--not, thankfully, into another vehicle.
Many law enforcement officers around the country are asking these days whether any kind of automobile chase by police is worth the risk to the public. Some have cut them out altogether.
Irvine Mayor Sally Anne Sheridan was right to express her dissatisfaction and to point out that innocent people can easily become victims.
Moreover, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol's parent agency, must reckon with the larger question of whether it is not better to stem the tide of illegal immigration at the border than inside this country.
The INS has plans to replace the 23-year-old San Onofre checkpoint with an expanded $30-million, 16-lane facility, which officials say may cut the possibility of people being killed or injured in chases. But ultimately, resourceful illegal immigrants will take different routes, and the best place for the INS to deal with immigration problems still will be right at the border.