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Border Has Tightened, Official Says : Immigration: Despite upbeat assessment, Justice Department attorney says Wilson has 'hindered' solutions. Governor's aide says pressure from state spurred the action.


WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's No. 2 official said Thursday that the Border Patrol, with the aid of the Defense Department, has sharply reduced the number of illegal immigrants coming across a heavily traversed section of the California-Mexico border.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Jamie Gorelick, returning from a two-day visit to the border south of San Diego, coupled her upbeat assessment with a prediction that the government will be able to "secure the entire Southwest border."

At the same time, Gorelick stepped up the Administration's attack on California Gov. Pete Wilson, who has been highly critical of federal efforts to halt illegal entries. She rejected the suggestion that Wilson has put the immigration issue on the front burner and maintained that he has "hindered" solutions and "has not been constructive at all."

Sean Walsh, Wilson's press secretary, countered that it was California's three lawsuits against the federal government that led to "substantial action" by the Clinton Administration. Walsh dismissed as "ludicrous" Gorelick's statement that Wilson had strongly supported allowing California employers to hire illegal immigrants and had opposed sanctions against employers in certain industries.

Gorelick, whose responsibilities include overseeing the Immigration and Naturalization Service, described looking at sites where "people had been running across the border utterly unimpeded for years" and finding them "quiet." She provided no specific figures on the decrease, however.

"The fencing, the lighting, the sensors, the night scopes, the positioning of the Border Patrol strategically with the assistance of friends in the Department of Defense who advised on the best deployment . . . and the new resources that we've brought to bear at the border have really worked," Gorelick said.

The Pentagon's Center for Low Intensity Conflict examined the topography and terrain for the Border Patrol and helped site sensors, scopes and personnel "to the maximum advantage," she said. "There is not enough in the way of resources for us to link arms across the border from California to Texas. . . . It really made an enormous improvement by bringing to bear the learning from other situations," said Gorelick, who was the Pentagon's general counsel before moving to the Justice Department.

"This is not to say that we have the entire Southwest border secured, but it is to say that a seemingly intractable problem is in fact addressable by equipment and manpower."

Gorelick said she expects smugglers of immigrants to "test our resources" east of the 15 miles or so of the border that has already been secured, an area with "less welcoming" topography for attempted crossings. "We have a very good planned deployment to address any effort on their part to move east," she said.

The Border Patrol now is extending its border-tightening effort east to meet up with improvements already in place in El Paso and is targeting Arizona for its next big effort.

Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, who is in the San Diego area to attend a U.S. attorneys' meeting there and to take another look at the border situation, will announce additional border steps today .

In her comments to reporters at the Justice Department on Thursday, Gorelick was ambiguous on when she expects the Southwest border to be secure.

"I expect that we will indeed be able to secure the entire Southwest border over the course of this program," she said.

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