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A media campaign aimed at discouraging illegal immigrants from sneaking into the United States from Canada started today with federal officials warning of the often-hazardous consequences.

"We hope to create an atmosphere where it is common knowledge that illegally crossing the border can create serious injury or death," said Frances Holmes, director of the Buffalo District Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Since 1998, four people have died trying to slip across the border in the Buffalo and Thousand Islands area. They include a Zimbabwe national who was mangled in the rear engine compartment of a bus last month at the Peace Bridge.

A sharp increase in the number of people using the three international railroad bridges in Buffalo and Niagara Falls also prompted the campaign, which will rely heavily on television and radio public service announcements both here and in Canada.

"Since Oct. 1, we have apprehended 44 individuals of 22 different nationalities using the railroad crossings," said Peter R. Moran, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol's Buffalo Sector.

The harsh winter, he explained, has filled the Niagara River with ice, causing illegal immigrants to turn to the bridges.

"If you've ever worked in a freight yard, you know a freight train is a very unforgiving piece of equipment," Moran said.

Pointing a finger at smugglers, Holmes said, "Trafficking in human cargo has become a multibillion-dollar international business, but smugglers care little about the safety of people. They are motivated by profit only."

She said the campaign aims to create public discussion on the issue.

"There are legal ways to enter the United States, and the legal ways are the only safe ways," Holmes said. "Hiring a smuggler or crossing the border illegally frequently ends in tragedies which could have been prevented."

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