News/US: Louisiana Path Of Illegal Entry

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Subject: News/US: Louisiana Path Of Illegal Entry
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Wed Oct 27 1999 - 09:00:01 EDT

Louisiana Path Of Illegal Entry
By Joan Treadway
The New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 25, 1999

When a drywall contractor doing business in Louisiana wanted a steady
supply of laborers, Baton Rouge resident Emilio Castillo knew just where to

In his native Jalisco, on Mexico's Pacific coast, he began rounding up
workers desperate enough to leave family and friends and risk the fugitive
life of an illegal immigrant in the United States.

Castillo charged each person he recruited a $1,000 smuggling fee, which was
taken out gradually from their paychecks. He used some of the money he
collected to give a cut to an associate in Texas. Castillo would get the
group across the border, a process that usually entails either providing
people with fake documents or escorting them through a thinly patrolled
area. Then his partner would meet them and ferry them to Dallas, where
Castillo would buy a clunker and drive the Mexicans on the final leg of
their journey.

This scenario worked out well for Castillo, a subcontractor to the
businessman in Baton Rouge. That is until he, his contractor and his Dallas
associate were busted by immigration agents and pleaded guilty last month
in state court to felony charges related to the smuggling operation, said
Gary Hochstatter, a criminal investigator for the New Orleans Border Patrol
who was involved in the eight-month investigation that cracked the case.

Louisiana has become, in recent years, a key segment in one of the main
corridors that have been developed by smuggling networks to bring human
cargo to work sites in eastern and northern sections of the country, say
immigration officials working to stem the tide. Moreover, many times
Louisiana is itself the newcomers' final destination, where they could wind
up working in a New Orleans restaurant or in coastal areas, processing
seafood at plants or building plank roads for the oil and gas industry.

"The New Orleans sector of the Border Patrol is the primary alien smuggling
gateway to the United States' eastern seaboard," said Joe Castillo, a
supervisory special agent for the sector, which covers Louisiana as well as
Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and part of Florida.

As one indication of the problem, his sector apprehended nearly 900 illegal
immigrants being brought into or through Louisiana in the federal fiscal
year that ended last month. The people being smuggled through this pipeline
are mostly Mexicans and Central Americans, but there are also what he terms
"exotics" thrown into the mix.

In July, three Ukrainians, all en route to Chicago, were found along with
several Mexicans in a van pulled off a state thoroughfare. Although it
could not be proven, such an unlikely combination is a warning sign that
there could be a global criminal organization involved, Castillo said.

Another relatively new phenomenon in this underground world is that
companies are being formed that specialize in transporting illegal
immigrants, he said. He attributes this development to deregulation of
busing carried out three years ago and said that the Ukrainians and
Mexicans discovered riding together were in such a company's vehicle.

These businesses, called "camionetas," are commonly licensed in Arizona or
Texas and then advertise openly in newspapers and circulars, both in the
United States and Mexico, Castillo said. But some of them have been
connected to American or international crime rings.

Increased, well-organized smuggling of illegal immigrants is a national
trend that is particularly prevalent on corridors including Interstate 10
and 20 through Louisiana on eastward as well as a few other routes, such as
the one leading up from Phoenix into Colorado and Wyoming, said Mike
Johnston, assistant director for investigations at the New Orleans district
of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

He and Castillo agree on the reasons: Strengthened efforts to curb illegal
immigration on both sides of the border mean that it is now tougher for a
would-be immigrant to cross into the United States without help. As demand
for smugglers' services has grown, so has the amount they can charge.

Yet another catalyst for the change is the intensified effort to catch
employers who are knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, Johnston said.

People who are considering sneaking into the United States on their own are
worried that they may not find work once they get there, he said. "More are
buying package deals - a drive (into the country and onto their
destination), fraudulent documents and a job."

And the smugglers have become aware that trafficking in human contraband is
less risky than hauling drugs, Johnston said.

If a Louisiana law enforcement officer encounters a drug smuggler on I-12,
he is likely to confiscate the goods and arrest the trafficker, Johnston
said. If the same officer pulls over a van driver for a traffic violation
and finds the vehicle full of passengers, he's more likely to give the
driver a warning for the violation than to detain the whole group, Johnston

Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the INS in Washington, said that he
cannot judge whether the smuggling is increasing but that he does know it
has gotten high-priced and more sophisticated since patrol efforts along
the U.S.-Mexican border were intensified sharply in 1993-94.

The cost of an illegal crossing was once a few hundred dollars but now it
is $1,000 or more, he said. And the smugglers' elaborate operations can
include safe houses on both sides of the border, where would-be immigrants
are stashed until they can be moved.

But at the same time, he said, "We're getting better at catching them. ...
When smugglers shift their operations, we move too." And the immigration
service is getting better at fraud-proofing documents, using such
techniques as holograms, he said.

The annual total of illegal immigrants apprehended in the United States has
risen sharply in the past decade, from 969,000 in 1988 to 1.5 million in
1998, he said. "We believe it is a result of our increased efforts and
maybe an increased effort of people to enter the U.S.," he said.

In the New Orleans Border Patrol sector, both the tallies for illegal
immigrants who were apprehended and for those among them who were caught
while being smuggled jumped dramatically in the mid-'90s, said Glynis
Major, its lead intelligence officer. In fiscal 1994, 4,262 were caught,
650 of them while being ferried by smugglers; in 1997, 9,240 were
apprehended, of which 4,335 were in the control of smugglers.

During the past two years, there was a lull in this upward trend, but that
was because the sector had fewer staff members and smaller budgets, she
said. Still, the totals were significant: during fiscal 1998, 8,073 people
were caught, 2,397 while being smuggled and last year those figures were
up, to 10,743 and 2,652 respectively.

Castillo, her co-worker, said that he also has noticed smugglers are
becoming more violent - citing an incident in Arizona in August in which
two of them argued over the control of a group of illegal immigrants and
two people ended up dead.

He worries about the many illegal immigrants he knows of who are brought
into the country and then crammed into overpriced, substandard housing. And
he is concerned as well about others who are endangered by
smuggler-drivers, who tend to get into accidents frequently because they
are ill-trained and are operating unsafe vehicles.

Meanwhile, Johnston said he even knows of cases where the INS has had to
free people, who were being held hostage by smugglers as insurance they
would be paid.

Both officials said that the routes in Louisiana being used by smugglers
include not only I-10 and I-20, but also I-12, I-49, I-55, I-59 and U.S. 190.

In the joint probe which the sister New Orleans agencies conducted to break
up the smuggling system that ended in Baton Rouge, punishment was meted out
that could serve as a deterrent.

Criminal investigator Hochstatter said that the drywall contractor, Hubert
C. Seals III of Picayune, Miss., got five years probation and four months
of electronically monitored home confinement and an $8,000 fine. Emilio
Castillo, the traveling subcontractor, got eight months in jail, three
years of supervised release and a $2,000 fine, while Juan Mares, his Dallas
contact, netted a $2,000 fine and 13 months in jail followed by three years
of supervised release.

As for the four Mexicans found at the conclusion of the investigation, they
were returned to their homeland.

Now, both Johnston and Joe Castillo, his colleague in Border Patrol, are
trying to beef up their staffs in ways that would impact smuggling.

Johnston is seeking five "quick response teams" for Louisiana and
Mississippi that would come to the aid of state and local law enforcement
agencies confronted by traffickers driving vans loaded with illegal
immigrants. And Castillo has requested that four agents be added to his
three-person anti-smuggling unit, which develops information from highway
arrests that they hope will lead to higher-ups in the smuggling chains.

State and local authorities in Louisiana and Mississippi welcome the help.

Sgt. William Davis, a Louisiana State Police spokesman, said that only a
couple of weeks ago, state troopers and Border Patrol agents worked
together for three days on I-20 in the Shreveport area. Flagging down
trucks for traffic violations led them to find 85 illegal immigrants, some
of them drivers, some of them passengers.

Over in Mississippi, Capt. Eddy Ingram of the Laurel Police Department said
Border Patrol officers have come to his town several times in the past few
years to help the local officers.

With Interstates I-59, 10 and 20 at close range, "We're right in the middle
of everything," he said. "It doesn't matter who does what where, they will
usually end up in Laurel," he said.

"Hispanics have been coming into the area to work in the poultry businesses
in recent years, and since then, we have been getting information that some
are being smuggled in and are illegal," Ingram said.

"About two weeks ago, there was an altercation between two Hispanic men,"
he said. One shot (and wounded) the other. We believe the one who did the
shooting was illegal, and we're still looking for him "

Melanie Orhant

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