News/US: Planting Season Busy for Smugglers

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Subject: News/US: Planting Season Busy for Smugglers
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Mon Feb 14 2000 - 09:22:14 EST


Planting Season Busy for Smugglers
By Guillermo Contreras
Albuquerque Journal, January 31, 2000

The next few months will be some of the busiest of the year for illegal
immigrant traffic, and a lot of it will be passing through New Mexico.

"This is our busy season," said Charles Kirk, officer in charge of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service office in Albuquerque. "The
smuggling really picks up in January."

Last week, five loads of immigrants were caught in New Mexico. Most were
heading east on I-40 because the planting season is gearing up to start in
the Midwest and the Southeast.

Rob Daniels, spokesman for the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, said a lot of
the traffic is already hitting the Arizona border because extra patrols in
El Paso and San Diego have squeezed the traffic in that direction.

Figures show more than 1 million undocumented immigrants were apprehended
every year since 1995. However, the Immigration and Naturalization Service
does not estimate how many actually made it past Border Patrol agents,
according to Nicole Chulick, a spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.

Last year the Tucson Sector, which stretches 281 miles west beginning at
the New Mexico state line, stopped 470,449 people -- more than any of the
other eight border-area sectors in the Southwest.

Daniels said the Tucson Sector had 58,477 apprehensions in the three weeks
since Jan. 1.

It's not likely to stop soon.

"Right now, it's more profitable, from the intelligence we have, to
transport undocumented aliens than to transport drugs," Daniels said.

One avenue into this country is through recruitment. Employers in Kentucky
or Florida, for example, will ask their employees -- themselves
undocumented immigrants -- to find more help.

"This recruiter will call to their hometown in Mexico or wherever, and make
arrangements to have whatever number of people he needs meet him at the
border or at a drophouse," Kirk said.

Some of the drophouses, or staging points, are around Phoenix.

In some cases, recruiters will work directly with smugglers along the
border, where people come in hopes of finding a way across.

"They'll be driven over to Phoenix in small loads, to a bigger vehicle,"
Kirk said. "When everybody gets there, they take off."

Kirk said the recruiter, in addition to getting paid by the employer, might
also make money by charging a transport fee to immigrants who have crossed
the border but need a way to get to the jobs.

Employers sometimes finance the fees by taking it out of workers' cash pay
at about $1 an hour -- whether they make minimum wage or less. But $2 to $3
an hour is still a lot more than the $3 a day they might make in Mexico.

And the transport fees can be "whatever (the recruiters) think they can get
out of them," Kirk said.

The 15 passengers of a van that crashed east of Edgewood on Dec. 4, for
example, were charged $800 each. All were from Chiapas.

Kirk noted that with transport fees like that, it could take an immigrant
about half a year to work it off.

Earlier this month, another 41 left Chiapas in three groups to find work in
the United States, residents there said.

Some of them will likely end up traveling in gutted vans or rental trucks.

"We've had as many as 60 people in an extended 15-passenger van," Daniels
said. "Imagine something like that, with 60 people, blowing a tire on the
interstate."

Daniels said smugglers don't care about the people they put at risk.

"That's why we are trying so hard to catch these people before they get so
far along the way," Daniels said. "The smuggler is not concerned about life
or death, but about how much money he can make."

Melanie Orhant

morhant@igc.org
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