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  • An Often-Crossed Line in the Sand

    Washington Post

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...6.html?sub=new

    By Kevin Sullivan
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Monday, March 7, 2005; Page A01

    LAS CHEPAS, Mexico -- An ancient blue school bus pulled up at Erlinda Juarez Martinez's house one recent afternoon, and 20 poor farmers wearing jeans and baseball caps hopped off. They had traveled for days to reach this village of crumbling adobe homes, separated from the United States by nothing but a few strands of barbed wire and a dirty desert breeze.

    Every hour, mud-caked buses and pickup trucks dropped off other new loads of travelers, their backpacks filled with tortillas and toilet paper, their heads filled with dreams of America. For them, Las Chepas was a locker room of illegal immigration, a place to find food, water, traveling companions and a guide.



    U.S. Border Patrol agent Jack T. Jeffreys, at rear, with a group of men who were stopped from entering the country illegally from Mexico. If the apprehended immigrants do not have a criminal record in the United States, they are driven back to the border and released into Mexico. (Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)

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    One of the men on the porch was Jesus Alonzo Camacho, 44. He and six friends had left home in Michoacan state, where they earn about $6 a day working in the fields. "We can't support ourselves at home; we need the money from the other side," Camacho said. His only plan was to slip across the border and walk north until he found someone to give him work. "Anyone," he said. "Anywhere."

    Facing Camacho and the others across a nearby ditch was an astounding high-tech spiderweb spun by the U.S. Border Patrol in New Mexico. Motion sensors were buried in the ground. High-resolution infrared cameras were mounted on poles, able to spot people five miles off. A man hiding in the dark would pop up larger than life on video monitors 35 miles away, so detailed that technicians could see him sneeze.

    On the ground, agents in big sport-utility vehicles were armed with night-vision goggles and satellite global positioning devices. Helicopters buzzed up and down the border, shining powerful spotlights. U.S. Army units preparing to head for Iraq were holding exercises here, catching illegal immigrants with precision surveillance equipment designed for war.

    Every day of the year, such high-tech barricades help U.S. authorities catch more than 3,000 people along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Yet despite the unprecedented investment in technology and manpower, illegal immigrants are still coming in waves -- and their numbers are increasing.

    Apprehensions Up Sharply

    A decade ago, the United States began trying to fortify the border, starting with Operation Gatekeeper in 1994. Since then, U.S. officials have added more patrols, lights and walls every year, especially since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet instead of stopping illegal immigration, those measures have just made many Mexicans already in the United States stay longer, according to Mexican officials.

    U.S. officials made 1.1 million apprehensions along the border last year, a 24 percent increase over the year before. It is unclear whether the rising apprehensions signify that more people are trying to cross or that a greater percentage are being caught. But experts in both countries estimate that perhaps 500,000 or more still make it through each year.

    Because it has proved impossible to jail the huge numbers of immigrants who cross the border illegally each year, Border Patrol officials are focusing on identifying and arresting those with criminal records and watching for potential terrorists.

    The officials said they have caught more than 53,000 people with criminal records -- including about 9,000 felony offenders -- since September, when a new computerized system was started to allow agents to quickly check a migrant's background against the FBI's database. The vast majority do not have criminal records, however. They are simply driven to the border and released into Mexico, where many keep crossing until they succeed.

    "What we're doing is not working," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration and border security, said in a telephone interview. "I don't believe you can build a wall high enough or wide enough to keep out people who have no hope or opportunity where they live."

    How to better manage the contentious issue of immigration will top the agenda when President Bush meets with Mexican President Vicente Fox later this month in Texas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to visit Mexico on Thursday to take up the issue.

    Bush has advocated a large-scale guest worker program that would allow Mexicans to work legally in the United States for several years and then return home. Cornyn said he believed Bush and both parties in Congress were serious about trying to enact some type of temporary worker program, while at the same time strengthening border security against potential terrorists.

    Mexican workers in the United States, including millions of illegal immigrants, are vital to the Mexican economy, sending a record $17 billion home last year. Mexico cannot create enough jobs for the more than 1 million young people who enter the workforce each year, making crossing the border as alluring as ever -- no matter how much the United States fortifies it.

    An Often-Crossed Line in the Sand


    While many U.S. employers welcome such workers, other Americans view them as lawbreakers who take away jobs and drain school and hospital budgets. Some opponents of illegal immigration, led by James Gilchrist, a Vietnam veteran from California, are organizing a protest action next month in Arizona. Their plan is to hold a mass "community watch" involving at least 500 volunteers who will patrol the border, observe illegal immigration and report their findings to the Border Patrol.

    According to the group's Web site, the United States is being "devoured and plundered by the menace of tens of millions of invading illegal aliens." Unless illegal immigration is curbed, it warns, "Future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures."



    U.S. Border Patrol agent Jack T. Jeffreys, at rear, with a group of men who were stopped from entering the country illegally from Mexico. If the apprehended immigrants do not have a criminal record in the United States, they are driven back to the border and released into Mexico. (Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)

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    'Worse Every Day'

    About 50 yards from the tumbledown shacks of Las Chepas, Joe and Teresa Johnson stood on the U.S. side of the border one recent day, putting up a new fence. The southern edge of their cattle farm abuts the border. They said a mile of five-tiered barbed-wire fence, and all the posts, had been stolen -- and not for the first time.

    The Johnsons said it would cost them about $10,000 to replace the fence. They called the theft the most recent irritation caused by the fast-escalating traffic of illegal immigrants across their large ranch, which has been in the family since 1918.

    "I'm just a rancher, but I know something's got to be done; it's getting worse every day," said Joe Johnson, noting that immigrants have left vast amounts of trash on his ranch and have come to his home demanding food and water.

    Teresa Johnson said the Border Patrol does not have enough leeway to deal effectively with the immigrants, who she said include a growing number of "thugs" and gang members. "The Border Patrol should be able to use their guns," she said. And if they are threatened by the immigrants, she said, "they should shoot them, take them out."

    She said she was not sure if a guest worker program, or other solutions being considered in Washington, might ease the problems on her land. "I'm so mad right now," she said, staring angrily toward Las Chepas. "I don't want any of them over here."

    Back Tomorrow

    On a recent Tuesday evening, there were 80 newly caught immigrants in the Border Patrol's processing trailer in the tiny town of Columbus, N.M., about 20 miles east of Las Chepas. One by one, they were taken out of five holding cells in the trailer, and their fingerprints were sent by computer to the FBI.

    Within minutes, an alert came back for a stocky 24-year-old man in a yellow sweat shirt. According to the FBI, he had served time in a New Jersey prison for homicide and was registered as a *** offender before being deported to Mexico. Agents said he would be charged with returning to the United States after deportation, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

    More typical was Judith Rodriguez, 23, who said she was on her way to a $300-a-week job picking onions on a New Mexico farm. She said she had crossed over twice before to work on the same farm, and this was the first time she'd been caught.

    "To keep my kids in school I need shoes, clothes, food and school supplies," said Rodriguez, who said her daughters, 10 and 9, were being cared for by her mother.

    Like the vast majority of the immigrants captured every day, Rodriguez shortly would be driven to the border and sent back to Mexico. Asked if she would try to sneak across again, she smiled. "Of course," she said. "Tomorrow."

    That night, in this 40-mile stretch of border alone, 229 people were caught and taken to the processing trailer. Two hundred were later returned to Mexico and nine were held because they had criminal records. Agents estimated that for every immigrant they catch, at least one or two more make it through.

    "I don't let that get to me; there's nothing we can do about it," said Jack T. Jeffreys, a Border Patrol agent guarding the border in his SUV. He compared his job to that of a police officer writing speeding tickets. They may not stop people from speeding, he said, but that doesn't mean police shouldn't write them.

    Mexican guides known as coyotes study the Border Patrol's movements with binoculars and use radios to coordinate their crossings. "They are as good at what they do as we are at what we do," Jeffreys said.

    'You Can't Stop These Guys'

    As enforcement has increased in Arizona, California and Texas, immigrants are increasingly coming to places such as Las Chepas, located in the remote desert. Except for the big border cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, which are about 90 miles to the east, there is nothing but desert and a few small communities for 100 miles in any direction.

    "You can't stop these guys, because they are desperate to make a dollar in the United States," said Hugo Snyder, 35, a Las Chepas resident in red cowboy boots and dark sunglasses. "And the coyotes are real wise. They just outsmart the Americans."

    Jose Cruz Anduaga is an official of Grupo Beta, a unit of the Mexican national immigration agency that offers medical care and advice to immigrants. One recent day he was riding in a bright orange pickup truck in the desert near Las Chepas when he found five men, ages 15 to 30, sitting sadly in the dirt.

    They had walked 12 hours in hopes of finding a less-guarded place to cross. They were hoping to make it to Phoenix, more than 250 miles away. They had no map and no water.

    "I feel powerless," Cruz said. "You want them to stay in their country with their family and their people, but there's nothing we can do about their economic need. We tell them not to go and they say, 'Are you going to give me a job?' "

    A Border Patrol helicopter hovered in the distance.

  • #2
    Washington Post

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...6.html?sub=new

    By Kevin Sullivan
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Monday, March 7, 2005; Page A01

    LAS CHEPAS, Mexico -- An ancient blue school bus pulled up at Erlinda Juarez Martinez's house one recent afternoon, and 20 poor farmers wearing jeans and baseball caps hopped off. They had traveled for days to reach this village of crumbling adobe homes, separated from the United States by nothing but a few strands of barbed wire and a dirty desert breeze.

    Every hour, mud-caked buses and pickup trucks dropped off other new loads of travelers, their backpacks filled with tortillas and toilet paper, their heads filled with dreams of America. For them, Las Chepas was a locker room of illegal immigration, a place to find food, water, traveling companions and a guide.



    U.S. Border Patrol agent Jack T. Jeffreys, at rear, with a group of men who were stopped from entering the country illegally from Mexico. If the apprehended immigrants do not have a criminal record in the United States, they are driven back to the border and released into Mexico. (Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)

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    One of the men on the porch was Jesus Alonzo Camacho, 44. He and six friends had left home in Michoacan state, where they earn about $6 a day working in the fields. "We can't support ourselves at home; we need the money from the other side," Camacho said. His only plan was to slip across the border and walk north until he found someone to give him work. "Anyone," he said. "Anywhere."

    Facing Camacho and the others across a nearby ditch was an astounding high-tech spiderweb spun by the U.S. Border Patrol in New Mexico. Motion sensors were buried in the ground. High-resolution infrared cameras were mounted on poles, able to spot people five miles off. A man hiding in the dark would pop up larger than life on video monitors 35 miles away, so detailed that technicians could see him sneeze.

    On the ground, agents in big sport-utility vehicles were armed with night-vision goggles and satellite global positioning devices. Helicopters buzzed up and down the border, shining powerful spotlights. U.S. Army units preparing to head for Iraq were holding exercises here, catching illegal immigrants with precision surveillance equipment designed for war.

    Every day of the year, such high-tech barricades help U.S. authorities catch more than 3,000 people along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Yet despite the unprecedented investment in technology and manpower, illegal immigrants are still coming in waves -- and their numbers are increasing.

    Apprehensions Up Sharply

    A decade ago, the United States began trying to fortify the border, starting with Operation Gatekeeper in 1994. Since then, U.S. officials have added more patrols, lights and walls every year, especially since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet instead of stopping illegal immigration, those measures have just made many Mexicans already in the United States stay longer, according to Mexican officials.

    U.S. officials made 1.1 million apprehensions along the border last year, a 24 percent increase over the year before. It is unclear whether the rising apprehensions signify that more people are trying to cross or that a greater percentage are being caught. But experts in both countries estimate that perhaps 500,000 or more still make it through each year.

    Because it has proved impossible to jail the huge numbers of immigrants who cross the border illegally each year, Border Patrol officials are focusing on identifying and arresting those with criminal records and watching for potential terrorists.

    The officials said they have caught more than 53,000 people with criminal records -- including about 9,000 felony offenders -- since September, when a new computerized system was started to allow agents to quickly check a migrant's background against the FBI's database. The vast majority do not have criminal records, however. They are simply driven to the border and released into Mexico, where many keep crossing until they succeed.

    "What we're doing is not working," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration and border security, said in a telephone interview. "I don't believe you can build a wall high enough or wide enough to keep out people who have no hope or opportunity where they live."

    How to better manage the contentious issue of immigration will top the agenda when President Bush meets with Mexican President Vicente Fox later this month in Texas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to visit Mexico on Thursday to take up the issue.

    Bush has advocated a large-scale guest worker program that would allow Mexicans to work legally in the United States for several years and then return home. Cornyn said he believed Bush and both parties in Congress were serious about trying to enact some type of temporary worker program, while at the same time strengthening border security against potential terrorists.

    Mexican workers in the United States, including millions of illegal immigrants, are vital to the Mexican economy, sending a record $17 billion home last year. Mexico cannot create enough jobs for the more than 1 million young people who enter the workforce each year, making crossing the border as alluring as ever -- no matter how much the United States fortifies it.

    An Often-Crossed Line in the Sand


    While many U.S. employers welcome such workers, other Americans view them as lawbreakers who take away jobs and drain school and hospital budgets. Some opponents of illegal immigration, led by James Gilchrist, a Vietnam veteran from California, are organizing a protest action next month in Arizona. Their plan is to hold a mass "community watch" involving at least 500 volunteers who will patrol the border, observe illegal immigration and report their findings to the Border Patrol.

    According to the group's Web site, the United States is being "devoured and plundered by the menace of tens of millions of invading illegal aliens." Unless illegal immigration is curbed, it warns, "Future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures."



    U.S. Border Patrol agent Jack T. Jeffreys, at rear, with a group of men who were stopped from entering the country illegally from Mexico. If the apprehended immigrants do not have a criminal record in the United States, they are driven back to the border and released into Mexico. (Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)

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    See a Sample | Sign Up Now
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    'Worse Every Day'

    About 50 yards from the tumbledown shacks of Las Chepas, Joe and Teresa Johnson stood on the U.S. side of the border one recent day, putting up a new fence. The southern edge of their cattle farm abuts the border. They said a mile of five-tiered barbed-wire fence, and all the posts, had been stolen -- and not for the first time.

    The Johnsons said it would cost them about $10,000 to replace the fence. They called the theft the most recent irritation caused by the fast-escalating traffic of illegal immigrants across their large ranch, which has been in the family since 1918.

    "I'm just a rancher, but I know something's got to be done; it's getting worse every day," said Joe Johnson, noting that immigrants have left vast amounts of trash on his ranch and have come to his home demanding food and water.

    Teresa Johnson said the Border Patrol does not have enough leeway to deal effectively with the immigrants, who she said include a growing number of "thugs" and gang members. "The Border Patrol should be able to use their guns," she said. And if they are threatened by the immigrants, she said, "they should shoot them, take them out."

    She said she was not sure if a guest worker program, or other solutions being considered in Washington, might ease the problems on her land. "I'm so mad right now," she said, staring angrily toward Las Chepas. "I don't want any of them over here."

    Back Tomorrow

    On a recent Tuesday evening, there were 80 newly caught immigrants in the Border Patrol's processing trailer in the tiny town of Columbus, N.M., about 20 miles east of Las Chepas. One by one, they were taken out of five holding cells in the trailer, and their fingerprints were sent by computer to the FBI.

    Within minutes, an alert came back for a stocky 24-year-old man in a yellow sweat shirt. According to the FBI, he had served time in a New Jersey prison for homicide and was registered as a *** offender before being deported to Mexico. Agents said he would be charged with returning to the United States after deportation, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

    More typical was Judith Rodriguez, 23, who said she was on her way to a $300-a-week job picking onions on a New Mexico farm. She said she had crossed over twice before to work on the same farm, and this was the first time she'd been caught.

    "To keep my kids in school I need shoes, clothes, food and school supplies," said Rodriguez, who said her daughters, 10 and 9, were being cared for by her mother.

    Like the vast majority of the immigrants captured every day, Rodriguez shortly would be driven to the border and sent back to Mexico. Asked if she would try to sneak across again, she smiled. "Of course," she said. "Tomorrow."

    That night, in this 40-mile stretch of border alone, 229 people were caught and taken to the processing trailer. Two hundred were later returned to Mexico and nine were held because they had criminal records. Agents estimated that for every immigrant they catch, at least one or two more make it through.

    "I don't let that get to me; there's nothing we can do about it," said Jack T. Jeffreys, a Border Patrol agent guarding the border in his SUV. He compared his job to that of a police officer writing speeding tickets. They may not stop people from speeding, he said, but that doesn't mean police shouldn't write them.

    Mexican guides known as coyotes study the Border Patrol's movements with binoculars and use radios to coordinate their crossings. "They are as good at what they do as we are at what we do," Jeffreys said.

    'You Can't Stop These Guys'

    As enforcement has increased in Arizona, California and Texas, immigrants are increasingly coming to places such as Las Chepas, located in the remote desert. Except for the big border cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, which are about 90 miles to the east, there is nothing but desert and a few small communities for 100 miles in any direction.

    "You can't stop these guys, because they are desperate to make a dollar in the United States," said Hugo Snyder, 35, a Las Chepas resident in red cowboy boots and dark sunglasses. "And the coyotes are real wise. They just outsmart the Americans."

    Jose Cruz Anduaga is an official of Grupo Beta, a unit of the Mexican national immigration agency that offers medical care and advice to immigrants. One recent day he was riding in a bright orange pickup truck in the desert near Las Chepas when he found five men, ages 15 to 30, sitting sadly in the dirt.

    They had walked 12 hours in hopes of finding a less-guarded place to cross. They were hoping to make it to Phoenix, more than 250 miles away. They had no map and no water.

    "I feel powerless," Cruz said. "You want them to stay in their country with their family and their people, but there's nothing we can do about their economic need. We tell them not to go and they say, 'Are you going to give me a job?' "

    A Border Patrol helicopter hovered in the distance.

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