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Friday, June 18, 2004

El Paso Times Online- Illegal Alien Arial Food & Water Drops

El Paso Times Online

An El Paso flight student has decided to put his Cessna C172 at the service of immigrants in distress.

Armando Alarcon, 36, a regional sales manager at a large trucking company, said he recruited four professional pilots and four other volunteers to fly his four-passenger plane, a Cessna C172, to look for undocumented immigrants along the border from El Paso to Nogales, Ariz. Alarcon said his group, Paisanos Al Rescate, or Countrymen to the Rescue, is motivated by humanitarian concerns.

"We can't change laws, but we can try to save lives," he said.

So far this year, two undocumented immigrants have died in New Mexico, of heat exposure, and 72 have died in Arizona.

The plane will be loaded with about 40 water bottles cushioned by bubble wrap and topped with small parachutes. The customized labels will have instructions to wave at the plane if the migrants need rescue, in which case the group would contact the Border Patrol.

Officials of Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, said they did not know of any comparable initiative along the Southwest Border.

"We appreciate the efforts of nongovernmental organizations and members of the general public. However, we discourage private parties from taking matters in their own hands. We ask that any efforts be done within the parameters of the law," said Mario Villareal, a spokesman for the agency in Washington, D.C.

Alarcon said professional pilots will fly his plane, as warranted by the Federal Aviation Administration and his insurance company. Dropping items like water bottles from planes is legal, as long as precautions are taken not to damage property or cause injuries.

Locally, Border Patrol officials said they have met with Alarcon and are discussing ways he could radio the agency for help when needed.

In the late 1990s, the Border Patrol in California and parts of Arizona teamed up with Civil Air Patrol, a private group, to patrol the desert from the air. The program is no longer in operation.

During the past few years, private citizens in Arizona have formed groups that patrol the desert to report immigrant sightings to the Border Patrol, such as American Patrol and Ranch Rescue, or to offer water and first aid, such as No More Deaths. But both types of groups patrol on the ground.

Alarcon said he had the idea for Paisanos Al Rescate when he took one of his first flight lessons.

"I was looking down and I thought that this is a great place to be able to help," said Alarcon, who was born in Mexico and raised in El Paso. He spent $85,000 during the past year on the project and hopes that publicity will attract donations and more volunteer pilots and others to act as spotters.

The group will have its first flight Saturday and hopes to fly an average of three times a week. The brightly painted plane will graze the ground at 500 to 700 feet of altitude, about five miles north of the border.

"It is going to be hard at the beginning. Most of these immigrants will probably be hiding," said Mario Luna, a corporate pilot in El Paso who volunteered for the project. "But once we get the word out, and they see we are not the Border Patrol, they will come out."


Louie Gilot may be reached at lgilot@elpasotimes.com, 546-6131.; For more information: www.parescate.com; To report suspicious activity to the Border Patrol: call (800) 635-2509 or (915) 881-5500.; Source: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

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