U.S. Coast Guard Shoring Up Its Watch For Illegal Immigrants

An official says the fence planned for the Southwest land border “needs to extend into the water” as smugglers shift directions.

Colorado Springs – As the nation fortifies its Southwest land
border to stop illegal immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere, the
U.S. Coast Guard is bracing for diverted migrants at sea – and
preparing a maritime virtual fence.

The plans call for surveillance drones that can augment radar to
spot smugglers of people or drugs on the oceans, combined with
patrols by helicopters equipped with mounted machine guns.

Tightening U.S. enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border “needs to
extend into the water. That is the goal,” said Adm. Thad Allen,
commandant of the Coast Guard, in an interview here Wednesday at
the annual Homeland Defense Symposium.

“How far east and west we will go remains to be seen,” he said.

Immigrants increasingly try to enter the United States by sea as
well as across the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico land border, according to
government apprehension data. President Bush has said he’ll approve
a massive new fence ordered by Congress along the boundary, in
addition to adding new Border Patrol agents with National Guard

“Given what’s going on along the Southwest border, we are watching
with great interest, and we will be prepared to act,” said Allen,
57, a Tucson native who has led the Coast Guard since May.

Today the Coast Guard and its fleet of 250 cutters and 144
helicopters increasingly patrols hundreds of miles out from U.S.

California-based crews in recent years have targeted a booming
migrant-smuggling business from Ecuador, apprehending thousands a
year. These operations often are tied into military operations and
the immigration enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland
Security, which in 2003 took over the Coast Guard.

The number of interdictions of U.S.-bound immigrants at sea more
than doubled, increasing from 4,136 in 2001 to 10,279 last year,
Coast Guard data show. A majority are caught in the Caribbean Sea,
including 2,067 Cubans this year, spokesman Steven Blando said.

Early Sunday, a San Diego-based Coast Guard cutter intercepted a 35-foot sailboat a few miles offshore carrying 19 suspected illegal immigrants from Mexico, including a child, said Petty Officer Brian Leshak, spokesman for
the Coast Guard in California. The migrants surrendered and were
handed over to border police.

A new maritime virtual fence in the works would rely on expanded
radar and surveillance from drone aircraft – known as “unmanned
aerial vehicles,” or UAVs – that could spot more immigrants and
drug smugglers at sea, Allen said.

New arrangements with other countries require more maritime vessels
to carry transponder beacons that enable easy tracking. U.S.
officials say this is crucial in helping to weed out which boats
U.S. agents might want to intercept and board.

Coast Guard helicopters now must be armed, as well, and
retrofitting them with machine-gun mounts has begun, Allen said. Since 1979, all Coast Guard crews boarding ships have carried weapons. But helicopters generally haven’t had firepower.

“We use nonlethal force to compel compliance. That’s in keeping
with the Constitution and our laws,” Allen said. “(With)
disabling fire, you are not attempting to harm anybody. You are
attempting to disable engines. Any boat that fails to stop, we can
use warning shots and disabling fire against.”

Immigrant-rights advocates bristled at the prospect of increased
enforcement at sea on top of the land-based efforts.

“That kind of enforcement is not a solution. A solution is a
sensible immigration system that deals with people already here and
gives a mechanism to bring people here legally in the future,”
said Joan Friedland, policy attorney at the National Immigration
Law Center in Washington. “For people who may be fleeing for their
lives or for a better life to be greeted with a machine gun strikes
me as horrific.”

Migrant Cases Burden System

Rise in deportations floods detention centers, courts

The attorney for a Salvadoran jailed in Colorado says custody should be based on “heinous crimes,” not “misfortunes.”

As a terrified 13-year-old, huddling against his mother, Jose
Mendez escaped El Salvador after his father was murdered. She’d
received death threats and a warning: Bad men would kidnap her sons
and cut off their fingers.

When they landed in the United States, immigration officials
allowed them in. Within months, Mendez was speaking English in

He excelled in high school while also holding down a full- time
job. After graduating, he worked his way up to running Qdoba
restaurants around Denver. He enrolled in college, trying to be the
first in his family to earn a degree.

But today the same U.S. system that for a decade nurtured Mendez,
now 23, labors to deport him back to an El Salvador he barely

He has been held without bail for 3 1/2 months in an overflowing
immigration jail – one person among thousands nationwide awaiting

The U.S. government is deporting record numbers of immigrants as
Congress and the public demand enforcement. It’s straining the
immigration system to the breaking point, sweeping up immigrants
such as Mendez, who has no criminal record, along with convicts and
raising questions about fairness.

The surging deportations overload the detention centers where
immigrants are held. Immigration courts also are swamped.

Next month, a federal judge must step in and handle the Mendez
case. This happens more and more as immigration-court decisions
increasingly are appealed.

The immigration bureaucracy that ordered Mendez arrested, based on
documents from 2001 when he was a teenager, had also issued him
work permits and welcomed his mother and brothers under a program
to help people from war-, flood- and earthquake-ravaged El

Tracing this one immigrant’s path – from a scared boy fleeing his
country to a scared man forced to sleep on the floor of a jammed
jail – reveals much about how a strained system can turn lives
upside down.

“There really are some very deep injustices taking place,” said
Doris Meissner, former chief of the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service and now a senior analyst at the Migration
Policy Institute, a bipartisan think tank in Washington. “The
scales are out of balance right now.”

The government response: “We are restoring integrity through
aggressive enforcement,” Homeland Security spokesman Marc Raimondi
said. “There’s certainly a lot of work to be done on the
immigration front.”

Jails, courts overwhelmed

A Denver Post review of federal immigration records found:

U.S. deportations of immigrants have increased by 78 percent from
99,213 in fiscal year 1999 to 177,436 so far this year. A growing
share of those deported committed no crimes while in the United
States – 53 percent this year, up from 37 percent in 2001 – even
though Bush administration officials repeatedly have said their
priority is deporting criminals.

The nation’s 24,331-bed system for detaining immigrants now is so
crowded that officials requested an extra $541 million to expand
detention and removal operations, on top of the $3.8 billion a year
taxpayers devote to immigration enforcement.

New detainees at Colorado’s 356-bed regional detention center in
Aurora, run by contractors, often must sleep on the floor.
Immigration officials said they’ve housed 413 immigrants – 16
percent over capacity – using mattresses on the floor and other
“portable beds.” Federal agents who arrested 120 suspected
illegal workers in a raid at Buckley Air Force Base on Sept. 20 had
to bus most of them immediately to Texas.

Immigration courts face such a surge that judges recently testified
in Congress that fairness is threatened. The government’s 212
immigration judges completed 352,287 cases in fiscal year 2005 – an
average of 1,662 cases per judge, 35 percent more than in 2001 with
only four more judges.

The immigration-court workload in Colorado has doubled. Three
judges and their staff handle more than 2,600 cases a year.
Attorneys face four-month waits to have cases heard.

Repeated requests by administrators for more judges and staff
failed to draw help from Justice Department officials in Washington
who run the immigration- court system – which, unlike most courts,
is part of the executive branch of government.

The court crunch means more detainees wait longer in jail, at
taxpayer expense.

Attorneys increasingly challenge immigration-court rulings,
appealing 11,741 decisions to outside federal courts in 2005, more
than six times as many appeals as in 2001, according to federal
court records. When independent federal judges in recent years
reviewed immigration cases, they reversed from 4 percent to 14
percent of immigration- court decisions each year.

“Everyone who looks at the system, whether it’s the immigration
courts or the processing of green cards or asylum petitions, agrees
it is overwhelmed,” said Steve Camarota at the Center for
Immigration Studies, a leading advocate for tougher immigration
enforcement. “… If we want to detain more people and increase the
number of people we deport, we don’t have the resources to do

Legal entry for Mendez

Today’s strained immigration system seems a far cry from the one
that once welcomed the world’s needy and harnessed their energy.
The Mendez story began that way.

In April 1996, Mendez was 12, at school in San Miguel, El Salvador,
when the principal called his name, he said in an interview. Armed
assailants had sneaked into his family’s garage and murdered his
father, Nelson Mendez, who ran a packaging business.

Then his mother, Marta Mendez, began receiving death threats over
the telephone and from unfamiliar visitors. One warned that
kidnappers would snatch her boys, cut off their fingers and mail
them to her one by one to extort money.

The next day the family fled, lying flat on the floor of an uncle’s
pickup as he drove to El Salvador’s main airport.

Landing in Los Angeles around midnight, Mendez and his brothers
hung close by their mother. He remembers thinking: “Oh, God. We
are leaving everything behind. We are losing our house, our family.
Everything.” She told them: “Our life is more important.”

They entered legally – immigration officials had issued them
tourist visas – and stayed with an uncle before moving into a
converted garage. A stay-at- home mother before, Marta found work
cleaning and caring for a wealthy family’s kids.

But she failed to apply for asylum within a year as required, court
records show.

When she did apply in 1998 for herself and her sons, the
application sat for three years and was denied in 2001. She then
applied for her family to stay in the country under a program
President Bush announced in March 2001 for people from El Salvador.
Some 225,000 Salvadorans live legally in the United States under
this program.

Each year, Mendez and his brothers submitted photos and
fingerprints to re-register under the program, records show.

“In my mind, I was legally here,” Mendez said.

He moved to Colorado in 2001, working for Pizza Hut and Qdoba, the
booming chain of Mexican fast-food restaurants, where he soon was
promoted with the promise of running his own store. He enrolled at
DeVry University.

Then, in June, immigration agents arrested him as he was opening
the Qdoba at West 50th Avenue and Kipling Street. They clamped
metal handcuffs on his wrists and led him away.

“They said: ‘You have a final order of deportation.’ … I just
could not believe it,” Mendez recalled.

“Misplaced priorities”

At the immigration detention center, wardens gave Mendez two
blankets and told him to sleep on the floor. After three nights, he
was given a mattress on the floor for two more nights before a bunk
opened. Gang members bullied him, he said, and he’s been sick with
a fever.

Court records show immigration agents arrested Mendez under an
order filed in 2001 when he was a teenager. Officials apparently
failed to process his initial 2001 application under the El
Salvador program until 2004, after he had re-registered three times
along with his mother and brothers, who were approved, records

Officials apparently then deemed Mendez ineligible because he
failed to submit fingerprints when re-registering in 2004, although
he had submitted fingerprints before.

Mendez’s brother hired Colorado immigration lawyer Kim Salinas. She
pushed the case before U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn, who is
scheduled to decide Nov. 7 whether to order immigration authorities
to release Mendez and review his case.

Jailing Mendez suggests “misplaced priorities,” Salinas said.
“There are people in the country who have committed heinous crimes
and could be in immigration custody. And there are people like this
kid, who had a series of misfortunes and who has no culpability in
any of this.”

Immigration officials “are doing their job,” Mendez said, but
deporting him “is unfair.”

Mendez said he dreads El Salvador: “No home, no family, no job.”
Gang members prey systematically on deportees from the United

“I don’t want to live in a country where I don’t trust people.
They took my father away and didn’t do anything about it, even to
investigate it,” Mendez said.

“Please let me stay here.”

Suspected Illegal Workers Arrested at Military Housing Site

Matter of national security, officials say

Agents, who loaded the 120 rounded up at Buckley Air Force Base onto buses bound for the border, vow to hold contractors accountable.

Buckley Air Force Base – Black-clad federal immigration agents
surrounded a military housing construction site at sunrise
Wednesday and arrested 120 suspected illegal workers from Mexico
and Central America within a mile of top-secret global surveillance
and missile early-warning facilities.

This was a matter of national security, federal agents said,
because only a fence separated the unauthorized immigrants from a
crucial military listening post.

The immigration raid ranked among the biggest in state history.
Federal agents loaded most of the workers onto buses bound for the
U.S.-Mexico border for deportation, and they vowed to hold military
contractors who employed the workers accountable.

Previous immigration enforcement in this area ended after
deportations, but “we are taking a different approach now,” said
Jeff Copp, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent
in charge of Denver district operations. “Instead of going in and
rounding up the workers and sending them home, we are actually
putting together an investigation to look at the culpability of the
company itself,” he said.

Military bases, oil refineries, chemical plants and other
“critical infrastructure” are top priorities because they are
“susceptible to terrorist action,” ICE regional spokesman Carl
Rusnok said.

Air Force officials on the Buckley base – in east Aurora beneath
giant white radar “golf balls” – blamed their contractor, Texas-

based Hunt Building Co., a leading provider of military housing
including facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“It’s their responsibility to ensure their company abides by the
law,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Cram, the base spokesman.

Bruce Jackson, Hunt’s superintendent on this $78 million, 353-unit
housing project, said he had no idea workers were illegal.
“Certainly not,” he said.

His office manager, Steph- anie Shuhayda, said Hunt had 24
subcontractors “from all over the United States.” The project,
which began in January 2005, was scheduled for completion
“sometime next year,” she said.

The raid sent hundreds of relatives of arrested workers scrambling
as impending deportations turned their lives upside down.

“I don’t know where they have him, don’t know what’s going to
happen,” said Maria Saucedo, 42, a mother of three from Mexico,
crying, speaking in Spanish from her minivan as she searched for
him at the work site.

Her husband lacked proper immigration papers because U.S.
citizenship officials “told him he had to go to Mexico for me to
petition for him,” Saucedo said, adding that the family moved to
Denver from Mexico because their ailing daughter needed first-rate
medical treatment to walk.

They count on his earnings for food and to make their mortgage
payment, Saucedo said.

“Why don’t immigration agents go to the streets and take
criminals? Why take the people who are working?” she said. “Why
didn’t they check for papers before they began this project?”

Spanish-speaking workers and subcontractors leaving the
construction site shook their heads at the disruption.

“This don’t make no sense. Now, you can see, there’s no work being
done,” said masonry subcontractor Abel Madera.

He had five workers who began work this week building walls, he
said. When he saw the federal agents move in, he quickly gave them
the day off, he said. “I called them, told them not to come

U.S. military officials “know a lot of illegal people don’t have
IDs,” Madera said, so they set up the construction project to give
workers access from Airport Road without having to pass through
military checkpoints.

3 Sentenced in an Industry Lacking Watch

Three people sentenced by a federal judge Monday for transporting
and harboring illegal immigrants were licensed farm-

labor contractors – an industry with little state or federal

State officials say they license about 15 labor contractors a year
to supply foreign workers to farms around Colorado.

Over the past 18 months, the Colorado Department of Labor and
Employment has received at least 10 complaints about labor brokers,
although it could not be determined whether current license holders
were targets of those complaints.

One complaint reviewed by The Denver Post through a records request
alleged an unlicensed contractor in southeastern Colorado brought
illegal workers to a farm and assaulted one of the workers.

U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham on Monday sentenced Moises
and Maria Rodriguez of Hudson, about 30 miles northeast of Denver,
to 11 months in prison for harboring and transporting illegal
immigrants. They were credited with the 11 months they have already
served in jail and, because they aren’t U.S. citizens, face
deportation to Mexico.

Their son, Javier, was sentenced to three years’ probation, with
home detention for the first six months.

The parents were licensed as farm-labor contractors through the end
of last year, records show. Federal agents in 2004 raided the
Hudson compound where they housed illegal workers smuggled from

Prosecutors said Moises Rodriguez directed workers who contacted
him from Mexico, telling them where to meet smugglers, who guided
them across the U.S.-Mexico border. Rodriguez then picked up the
workers on the U.S. side of the border and with his son drove them
to Colorado. They worked the migrants 12 hours a day with no days
off and deducted “smuggling fees” from their pay.

Mistreatment of workers often stays hidden. Social workers who hear
of abuse and who file complaints say they are reluctant to speak
out for fear employers could retaliate against workers.

Some worker-advocacy groups are limited in handling cases involving
illegal immigrants because they receive government funding.

None of the complaints received over the past 18 months has been
investigated, state and federal labor officials acknowledged.

The problem: Colorado labor officials “don’t have the manpower”
to investigate labor suppliers, said Don Peitersen, director of the
division of employment and training in the state labor department.

So, state officials say, they forward all complaints to the U.S.
Department of Labor.

Yet record checks revealed that only one of the complaints had been
forwarded – the complaint received in July about the unlicensed
activity in southeastern Colorado.

Colorado’s farm-labor contractor-licensing system was designed to
help farm employers make sure workers they hire are legal and have
appropriate housing and transport.

Labor suppliers are required to have a federal and a state license
in Colorado. These authorize them to recruit foreign workers, house
them and drive them to and from worksites. Some licensees are only
allowed to do some of this.

Complaints that state labor officials receive often involve alleged
failure to pay workers money they’ve earned, unlicensed driving or
housing of workers, and substandard living conditions, said Larry
Gallegos, monitor advocate in the state labor department.

Two other recent complaints he received involved unlicensed
contractors who apparently brought illegal workers from Mexico to
two farms in southern Colorado. Gallegos said he plans to forward
these to federal authorities soon using a federal complaint form.
He recently met with federal labor officials asking how they prefer
to receive complaints forwarded from the state.

At the U.S. Department of Labor’s district headquarters, Alex
Salaiz, district director of the wage and hour division, fielded
the one complaint state officials sent his way.

“The conditions you describe will be looked into as soon as
possible,” he wrote back. “You should be aware that the
investigation may not be complete for some time.”

Child-labor matters and illegal firings take top federal priority,
Salaiz said. Complaints involving farmworkers will be considered,
he said, noting he has 21 investigators for a three-state area.

“We can’t react unless there’s a complaint,” he said. “… My
system is not broken. I can’t say about the state.”

Migrants’ Exploiters To Be Sentenced Today

The Hudson couple have pleaded guilty to holding illegal laborers in a camp and skimming their pay.

Hudson – Leaning on her fence, retiree Ann Hoyt looked across at
the dilapidated white barracks and winced. She had no clue they had
held illegal Mexican workers who toiled on farms to pay smuggling

“Remember Auschwitz and the people in Germany saying, ‘We didn’t
know it was there’? Well, I didn’t know this was there, and it was
in my backyard,” said Hoyt, a retired microbiologist who raises
llamas half a mile away.

Today in federal court, Hudson residents Moises Rodriguez and his
wife, Maria, are scheduled to be sentenced for transporting and
harboring illegal immigrants in this case of migrants who were
smuggled into the country and then worked to the bone.

Foremen bused them from the barracks to farms where they picked
crops for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Supervisors deducted
“smuggling fees” totaling $1,100 to $1,300 from the workers’

In October, when federal agents raided the fenced barracks compound
at Hudson, 30 miles northeast of Denver, they found automatic
weapons and cocaine in a trailer where a supervisor stayed, court
records show.

This is one of several recent cases around the country involving
smuggled foreign workers who labored under financial duress, owing
money to those who sneaked them into the United States.

Moises and Maria Rodriguez, who pleaded guilty in May, face up to
40 years in prison for their role in transporting and harboring
scores of illegal workers from Mexico, then deducting fees from
their pay. Prosecutors say they supplied workers to agricultural
employers around northern Colorado, including the state’s largest
organic vegetable farm.

Their son, Javier Rodriguez, who lived in a trailer by the
barracks, has agreed in a plea deal to share what he knows about
smuggling, employment of illegal workers, drug trafficking, violent
crime and gun dealing in return for leniency in sentencing.

Farm owners who used the illegal workers were not charged.

Attorney Jeff Edelman, representing Javier Rodriguez, said
employers are key players who ought to be targeted.

For the workers, “it’s sort of an indentured servitude you can
never get out from under,” Edelman said. “You ought to get the
big shots. It’s against the law to hire illegal aliens

At Grant Family Farms, a large organic grower where Moises
Rodriguez sent workers, owner Andy Grant said he has championed
worker rights and pays at least $7.25 an hour.

“The whole thing about the smuggling, I have no knowledge of it,
and as far as the housing, I don’t know where people live. We offer
jobs,” Grant said.

Grant questioned federal priorities in targeting farms rather than
other sectors of the economy that rely heavily on illegal workers.

“What’s going to happen is, agriculture is going to be driven out
of the United States to Mexico,” he said.

Among other U.S. cases involving indebted foreign workers:

FBI and immigration agents just arrested 31 Koreans accused of
running a trafficking ring that placed smuggled women at spas and
brothels across the northeastern states.

Federal prosecutors in Seattle charged nine Koreans for their
alleged role in an operation that smuggled women from Asia, often
across the U.S.-Canada border, and put them to work as prostitutes
in spas nationwide.

A Colorado court on Thursday sentenced Saudi Arabian immigrant
Homaidan Al-Turki to 28 years to life in prison on charges of false
imprisonment and unlawful sexual contact involving an illegal
worker from Indonesia kept as a virtual slave. Federal charges are

And federal immigration agents in Colorado are investigating
several other cases involving smuggled foreign workers, said Jeff
Copp, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement’s Denver district.

As in most of these cases, the Mexican men and women smuggled to
Hudson apparently came willingly, agreeing to work and live at the
barracks until free from their debts to smugglers.

First, the workers in Mexico telephoned Moises Rodriguez, court
records show. He directed them to hotels at Palomas and Agua Prieta
on the Mexico side of the border, where they met “coyote” guides
who led them on multi-day treks across dry open land near Douglas,

Then, after receiving cellphone calls from the guides on the U.S.
side of the border, Rodriguez picked up the workers and drove them
via Phoenix to Hudson, the records show.

Some Hudson townspeople never knew. But a few sensed an ugly

Construction worker Loren Winstead recalled delivering surplus food
from a supermarket to the barracks. “They would surround my truck
and help unload it,” he said. “I didn’t think they were abused.
But people took advantage of them.”

Others cringed at hearing regular automatic weapons fire from
inside the compound, Hudson Mayor Neal Pontius said. Town leaders
repeatedly complained to Weld County authorities, he said. “People
didn’t like going to our town park in the evenings because you
didn’t know if a stray bullet would come your way.”

Deporting the smuggled workers, as federal authorities have done,
and jailing members of the Rodriguez family won’t make much
difference in the overall immigration conundrum, Pontius said.

“There will be another person who takes their place in a
heartbeat. It’s a never-ending cycle.”

On Border, Bush’s Move Called “Game”

Many residents question the idea of bringing Guard troops into the area. “It’s going to make people mad,” one person says.

Animas, N.M. – Delivering mail to ranchers in his gray truck,
Garland Johnson reckoned rattlesnakes soon may be the least of his
worries here amid mesquite and cactus-covered mountains near the
U.S.-Mexico border – a remote stretch where illegal immigrants,
including drug smugglers, cross at will.

President Bush’s decision to deploy National Guard soldiers to
support Border Patrol agents, Johnson feared, will bring increased
violence and suffering.

While he and others who live along the border are fed up with
illegal immigration, many questioned the effectiveness of military
methods for a problem they see as rooted in Mexican poverty.

The solution lies more “in your backyard” – cities such as Denver
and Chicago – “where the illegal immigrants find jobs, not here,”
said Johnson, 44, whose family runs cattle on 9,600 acres his
grandfather settled.

“Lining up the National Guard and Minutemen along the border isn’t
going to solve the problem,” he said. “It’s going to make people

That sort of skepticism and concern spread across the southwestern
New Mexico borderlands Tuesday, even as officials emphasized that
under Bush’s plan, 6,000 Guard members would perform only support
tasks, such as building fences and roads and conducting
surveillance – not making arrests.

For Mexican shuttle driver Arturo Hernandez, on his daily – and
legal – run from Chihuahua to Phoenix, the news about the soldiers
sounded about as appealing as two black F-16 fighter jets in
training that whooshed across the sky in front of him.

The great nation he was entering – with border authority approval –
suddenly seemed less welcoming than ever. “Not like friends,” he

Some interpreted the Bush move primarily as posturing. Yet “there
are struggling people who are dying behind this political game,”
said Lima McMillan, 55, an emergency medical technician at
Columbus, N.M.

Here, increased illegal immigration has led to violence. Shots
fired at the police chief outside a Family Dollar store last fall
prompted New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to declare a state of

But if soldiers are sent in to free up more border agents for
patrols, McMillan said, the intensified enforcement will drive
immigrants into dangerous desert and mountain areas to make risky

One man she treated recently had collapsed in a sun-baked field
after stepping on a mesquite stump that pierced his foot. He needed
surgery. Another was distraught because his young wife had lost
consciousness after they collapsed, dehydrated after days of
trekking from Mexico. The woman suffered brain damage that left her
unable to recognize her husband’s face, McMillan said.

“If I could, I’d give President Bush a few pictures of people who
become dehydrated – showing him what happens when their tongues are
swollen, their skin cracks and vessels break in their heads,” she

Monday night, minutes after Bush announced he would call out the
National Guard, sirens flashed and an ambulance rushed to the
border gate between Columbus and Palomas, Mexico, where a pregnant
Mexican woman had walked up to guards begging for help delivering
her baby. The ambulance carried her north to a U.S. medical center
– and the birth there gave the baby automatic U.S. citizenship.

Meanwhile, an illegal immigrant slipped across the border into the
Family Dollar store just north of the gate – the scene of last
fall’s shooting. A Border Patrol agent, who asked not to be
identified, followed the immigrant into the store. He arrested him,
verified he had no proper papers and zip-tied his wrists.

The agent carried that man and two other illegal immigrants in the
back of his white-and-green patrol wagon to a substation for
processing and deportation.

Family Dollar clerks chafe when the Border Patrol agents enter
their aisles, assistant manager José Saenz said at the cash
register. “Sometimes customers are scared,” he said.

Smugglers use the store as a pickup point where they can rendezvous
with clients and carry them north, he said.

Calling out the National Guard to beef up enforcement seems
inappropriate, Saenz said, pointing at a Border Patrol surveillance
camera already trained on the front of his store.

“It’s not a war” between the United States and Mexico, he said.
“And there’s nothing you can do about it. People will just keep

Bosses in Middle of Immigration Law

Some employers feel the heat from a crackdown last week, but also fear suits from fired workers.

Last week’s announcement by federal authorities of an aggressive
crackdown on hiring illegal immigrants – after years of lax
enforcement – has left employers like Chris Walter perplexed.

Walter’s company, TriStar Drywall, depends heavily on Mexican
immigrants to install walls in homes around Denver. When hiring,
“we do check two forms of ID,” said Walter, TriStar’s vice

Then, if the Social Security Administration sends a letter
indicating an employee has submitted an invalid number, Walter
orders that worker to call the authorities and straighten it out.

That’s all the law requires of employers. But Walter still feels
“like the microscope is definitely out. We do try to go exactly by
the letter of the law, but we are concerned that the law doesn’t
seem to be very clear.”

Federal officials got employers’ attention Thursday when they
announced the roundup of nearly 1,200 workers for palletmaker IFCO
Systems in 26 states, including 38 at a Commerce City site, for
alleged immigration violations. Seven company managers were
arrested, accused of conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants, and
could face prison terms. And more raids could be coming. Federal
agents “have several things we are working on in the Denver
area,” said Jeff Copp, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
special agent.

“Companies need to take a hard look at what they are doing. If
they are doing something illegal, they ought to reassess what they
are gaining,” he said. But only employers who “knowingly” hire
illegal immigrants are at fault, federal officials say.

And Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s declaration
Thursday that “the status quo has changed” probably won’t impede
most employers, said Angelo Amador, immigration policy director for
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. “It depends on how far
they go. Nobody is talking about going after the 12 million”
illegal immigrants, Amador said.

Behind the scenes in Congress, Amador and others opposed recent
efforts by some lawmakers to lower the legal standard so that
employers who “negligently” hire illegal workers could be

The promised federal crackdown “shows the laws that are already in
place are good enough to go after the people who are really trying
to circumvent the law,” Amador said.

But some are pressing for stricter laws, including creation of a
fraud-proof work ID and verification system so that employers can
be required to make sure workers they hire are in the country
legally. Border Patrol union president T.J. Bonner, representing
about 10,500 frontline federal agents, dismissed the crackdown as
political posturing intended to defuse reform.

Homeland Security officials “are trying to convince Congress the
existing laws are adequate,” Bonner said, adding that the
crackdown “is not going to have any kind of deterrent effect on
the hundreds of thousands of employers out there employing illegal

Construction and landscaping companies have been identified in
recent studies as relying heavily on illegal immigrant workers.
Trade group officials declined to comment on federal enforcement

“We absolutely advise our members to follow the law all the
time,” Colorado Association of Homebuilders spokeswoman Amy Mayhew
said. “We expect our members are out there being outstanding

An illegal worker can fool an employer without much trouble,
Associated Landscape Contractors director Kristen Fefes said.
“There are some very good documents out there that look completely
legitimate,” she said. And when Social Security officials send
letters notifying employers that a worker’s number is invalid,
employers also are warned not to dismiss them based on that

Often, Fefes said, letters arrive up to three years late and are
based on inaccurate information.

At TriStar Drywall, Walker voiced similar concerns. “I want to
comply, but you are exposing yourself to possible litigation. There
are guys out there who will file charges against you for

The whole system needs to be fixed, said Chris Thomas, a Denver
attorney who represents employers. “Employers find themselves in
this wild conundrum,” he said. “They worry, ‘If we don’t go far
enough, we’re going to find ourselves on the wrong side of Homeland
Security. If we go too far (in firing workers), we may find
ourselves on the wrong side of Social Security.”‘

Under the federal crackdown, agents will focus on employers showing
“total disregard for immigration law,” said Copp, the ICE special
agent. “But if we get workable information … on just about any
company in the city or in our four-state area, we’d be able to work
those cases, too.”

Mexico is Global Turnstile to U.S.

More non-Mexicans are crossing border

Illegal immigrants from nations the U.S. considers hotbeds of
terrorism enter regularly, despite increased enforcement.

U.S. agents along the southwestern border increasingly catch
illegal immigrants from throughout the world – not just from Mexico
– as they try to slip into the country.

Some come from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and other countries U.S.
officials regard as hotbeds of terrorism. Many more may enter

New data obtained by The Denver Post show that Border Patrol agents
over the past five months caught 46,058 non-Mexican migrants along
the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, up 12 percent from the 40,953 caught
during the same period last year.

Annual apprehensions have increased fivefold since 2002, with
155,000 non-Mexican migrants caught last year, according to
government data from congressional and other sources.

The widening flood of illegal immigration raises security concerns
as Congress debates how to fix an immigration system all sides see
as broken.

Agents “haven’t encountered a terrorist crossing the southwest
border at this point. But we’re concerned about the possibility,”
said Dean Boyd, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs

There’s no way to know how many illegal immigrants enter
undetected. The latest estimates based on census surveys show
850,000 people a year enter illegally, more than double the influx
in the early 1990s – despite a decade of beefing up border

Easy path for terrorists

In Denver, growing numbers of undocumented asylum-seekers from Somalia, Ethiopia and elsewhere tell social workers of harrowing passages through multiple countries before sneaking in from Mexico.

They sometimes “get lost in the mix” of unauthorized job-seekers, said Regina Germain, legal director at the Rocky Mountain Survivors Center in Denver.

Having a system that can help asylum-seekers, as well as ensure
security, is an imperative “that goes back to our very roots,”
Germain said. “The people who founded our country were fleeing

On the security front, the United States remains vulnerable,
despite post-Sept. 11, 2001, efforts, and terrorists easily could
infiltrate, said T.J. Bonner, president of the union that
represents Border Patrol agents.

The data show “just the ones we catch; a lot of people get by
us,” Bonner said, estimating that border guards catch 25 percent
to 33 percent of illegal border-crossers. “The borders remain out of control.” Congress is debating proposals such as deploying hundreds more border guards and using more motion detectors, surveillance cameras and aerial
drones, along with allowing more legal foreign workers and possibly
granting amnesty to 12 million illegal immigrants already here.

But the government already has been increasing the number of Border
Patrol agents steadily from 4,000 in 1993 to 11,300 today, and the
agency’s budget more than tripled from about $380 million to $1.4

Bonner and others contend that further intensifying border
enforcement is futile unless the government also cracks down on
employers who hire illegal immigrants.

“Take away the reason most people are coming in the first place,”
Bonner said.

Former government demographer Jeff Passell, now with the Pew
Hispanic Center, says surging non-Mexican illegal immigration “is
a phenomenon we haven’t figured out a way to stop, or even to

“There’s every indication these people are coming here to work. …
And we haven’t put in place anything to deal with the jobs magnet
which is attracting people,” he said. “The flattening world makes
it easier for people to get close to the United States. People who
might have come on tourist visas in the past now may be getting to
Mexico and Canada.”

Caught, then let go

Non-Mexican migrants caught entering the United States illegally in
fiscal years 2002 to 2005 came mostly from Central America and
Brazil. Also among them were: Iranians (95), Iraqis (74),
Pakistanis (660), Syrians (52), Yemenis (40), Egyptians (106) and
Lebanese (91).

Those figures cover all ports of entry. Along the southwestern
border, non-Mexican migrants caught from 2002 to 2004 – the latest
years for which data could be obtained – included Pakistanis (113),
Egyptians (41), Jordanians (55), Iranians (39), Iraqis (22),
Yemenis (15) and Saudis (13).

They are from among 35 “special-interest” nations the State Department lists as hotbeds for terrorism. U.S. officials increasingly restrict visas for
travelers from these nations.

Even when non-Mexican migrants are caught, some are released into
the United States with notices to appear in immigration court for
lack of jail bed space. Homeland Security Secretary Michael
Chertoff has vowed to end that practice on the southwestern border
this year. Immigration authorities are trying to deport non-Mexican
migrants more quickly. Mexico refuses to take them back, and U.S.
agents must fly them home if their countries will accept them.

The concern experts raise is that beefed-up border patrols now
force determined migrants to rely on increasingly sophisticated
global smuggling networks to get them through undetected. This
business is booming, with networks proliferating, drawing in
drug-crime cartels and transnational gangs.

Violence is up – attacks on Border Patrol agents topped 700 last
year – further encouraging reliance on smugglers. A recent FBI
intelligence bulletin warned that one smuggling kingpin “has
instructed his employees to shoot at” U.S. border agents. All this
favors terrorists who easily could use smuggling networks to enter,
said Walter Ewing, a researcher at the Immigration Policy

“The best way to enhance security would be to take labor migration
out of the equation. If we were channeling workers from abroad
through legal channels, border-control resources could be channeled
towards catching potential terrorists as opposed to just tracking
down job-seekers,” Ewing said.

If Congress could reduce the number of illegal job-seekers, he
said, “terrorists would find it more difficult to hide among the
masses of undocumented aliens.”

“And they wouldn’t be able to rely on such good smuggling networks
because the market for those networks would be undercut,” Ewing
said. Congressional leaders in the past have considered proposals
to introduce fraud-proof IDs and hold employers responsible for
screening out illegal workers.

“It’s hard to talk about closing down the border when, by and
large, immigrants who come to this country are working. And who are
they working for? Small firms. Large firms. It’s pretty
pervasive,” said Audrey Singer, immigration specialist at the
Brookings Institution.

Targeting employers

Illegal immigrants occupy nearly 5 percent of U.S. jobs, Passell,
of the Pew Hispanic Center, found in a new study.

And removing the jobs magnet means “you have to give employers the
tools, and then you have to hold them accountable,” he said.
“That means finding employers, prosecuting employers, and possibly
putting some out of business.

“That’s just not politically popular. It’s the work that is
drawing people here. If you don’t deal with that, it’s hard to
think how you can control” illegal immigration.

Homeland Security teams have developed “a world-class
identification card” that could help employers verify whether
workers are here legally, said Emilio Gonzalez, Homeland Security’s
chief of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Today, “everyone can come up with 10 or 15 pieces of
identification to prove they are legal. But quite frankly,
employers have no idea what they are looking for,” Gonzalez said.

After a Hard Journey North, Couple Considers Going Home

Tijuana man rejoices at being reunited with his wife but struggles with heart trouble, bleak job prospects

Their illegal journey to Denver taught them that they might be
better off together at home.

If only he could get his heart fixed.

It started when burnt-out taxi driver Amador Venegas, 43, of
Tijuana, Mexico, decided to cross into Texas.

But two weeks alone in an El Paso safe house without Blanca, his
bride of two years, was too much.

Amador still hadn’t found work. He’d labored before in U.S. potato
fields, sending money home to his previous wife, and knew how
lonely he’d be. Now with his heart trouble, he might never see
Blanca again.

“It’s a question of a man and a woman being together,” he said,
telling his story Wednesday afternoon in a Denver homeless

So Amador telephoned Blanca in Sinaloa and told her to go to the

They had no money for a high-end “coyote” who, for $1,000 or
more, could haul Blanca in a jam-packed van all the way through to
a job. Those rides are dangerous, anyway.

Amador arranged a crossing for $200, relayed directions to a house
in a colonia at the edge of Juarez.

Blanca, 32, left her kids with her mother and met the coyote. “I
had to trust him,” she said. They hiked for six hours, up and down
steep mountains.

Amador paid up at the “plaza of the alligators” (Jacinto Plaza)
in El Paso.

Now they were free. But the church-run safe house stank. “Like a
cage,” Amador said. And he wasn’t well. Medicine from a Tijuana
doctor was running out.

Migrants there dreaded the trip north. U.S. Homeland Security
agents ran a checkpoint at Las Cruces, N.M.

But Amador told Blanca: “We have to risk it. If they catch us, we
go back to Sinaloa. And if not … .”

She borrowed $57 from a mother with three kids for a bus ticket to
Denver and promised to call Amador when she got there.

At Las Cruces, two security agents boarded. Blanca sat still in the
very back row – “thinking they’ll make me get off the bus and go
back to Mexico.”

They didn’t ask for her papers.

And she made it.

Reaching Amador proved difficult. No phone. Amador followed to
Denver anyway. He wandered around lost and found a place in the
homeless shelter.

At a nearby day shelter, he telephoned the El Paso safe house. “If
Blanca calls … .”

She did. And two days later, they met in the lobby of the day
shelter. They hugged, crying.

Now they’re together whenever possible.

For $100, Blanca bought a fake work ID. She found a job cleaning at
a restaurant that brings them $180 a week – not much more than what
she earned cleaning houses in Tijuana while he drove a cab.

He went to an emergency room and got a doctor to check out his
heart. Bad news. “The operation I need costs a lot of money, more
than $50,000.” A doctor gave him medicine that has helped hugely –
“he didn’t say anything about money.”

Now by day, Amador wanders the icy streets north of downtown
looking for day jobs while Blanca cleans. In their one month here,
he’s worked about seven days.

One minute they talk about buying an apartment and getting out of
the shelter, the next about going back to Mexico.

She put her arms around him.

“I want to go back to Mexico,” he said.

She acknowledged she thinks about it, too.

“Mexico is poor – poor but noble,” he said as rush-hour traffic
whizzed past.

“Here, there’s no sun.”

Global Gang Spreads, Despite Ongoing Arrests

International gangs operating on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico
border are spreading to cities nationwide, including Denver,
officials say.

Federal immigration authorities on Friday announced the arrests of
375 suspected members and associates of Central American, Mexican
and other gangs across the country over the past two weeks – the
latest in a year-long effort that has caught 2,388.

In Denver, immigration agents have arrested 70 suspected members of
gangs such as MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, since July, including
seven in the past two weeks, said Jeff Copp, regional chief of U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

All those arrested locally lacked legal immigration papers or had
been involved in burglaries, car thefts or fake document
trafficking, Copp said. All, he said, had “verified gang

Federal agents teamed with local police to identify and arrest the
seven arrested most recently in Denver. Nationwide, of those
arrested this past year, 533 face criminal charges, and 1,855 were
charged with immigration violations.

In some cities, international gangs have preyed on
illegal-immigrant workers who owe money to smugglers.

No links to al-Qaeda have been established, said Claude Arnold,
chief of anti-gang operations at immigration headquarters in

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