TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - U.S. Border Patrol agents in southern Arizona are handing out wanted posters to crack down on drug and human smugglers in the most heavily trafficked corridor along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Border Patrol's Tucson sector covers 262 miles of the international border with Mexico and accounts for almost half of illegal immigrant arrests and marijuana seizures there.
Agents began handing out fliers at checkpoints in late October carrying mug shots of dozens of smugglers at large, with a telephone number for the public to call in and provide anonymous tips.
The number of illegal immigrants arrested in the sector fell to 241,000 last year from 317,000 in 2008. Tucson Border Patrol spokeswoman Colleen Agle said the program sought to put additional pressure on smuggling networks.
"Now that we have been able to really reduce the number of illegal aliens coming across, we are really trying to target the smugglers so that we can make sure that we are being as effective as possible," Agle said.
"Every single one of those individuals on that poster have ... been previously arrested and they are all somehow associated with a smuggling organization," she added.
U.S. and Mexican authorities are currently ramping up efforts to curb crime along the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border with Mexico.
Raging drug violence has claimed more than 31,000 lives south of the border since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006.
Border Patrol agents will hand out the fliers one day a week at checkpoints on roads south of Tucson.
Agle said the public had been receptive to the program, although it was too early to assess its impact.
A similar initiative rolled out in June by the Border Patrol in El Centro, California, led to the arrest of two known smugglers there.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Greg McCune)