Illegal immigrants hop the border fences and head for the storm drains on their “path to citizenship:”
Armando Reyes climbed over the border fence and prepared for the dash into San Diego. But his smuggler instead led him and four other migrants through a patch of reeds to a stinky drainage pipe, and ordered them inside.
The black sludge reached Reyes’ chin as he crawled through the shoulder-width tube. Rats scurried by. Terrified of losing his way in the darkness, Reyes reached for the illegal immigrant in front of him and clutched his sneaker.
The stocky 28-year-old from Oaxaca had followed the smuggler into a vast labyrinth of drainage pipes under Otay Mesa, a booming commercial area of San Diego 15 miles southeast of downtown.
The 23-mile network leads to about 500 manholes scattered across about three square miles. From those openings into the bowels of the city, mud-covered migrants crawl out into streets, busy intersections and parking lots, creating a dizzying guessing game for U.S. Border Patrol agents.
“They’re popping up all over the place,” said Joe Perez, the agent in charge of the area.
The migrant traffic below truck-clogged streets and new office parks underscores the persistence and desperation of people faced with crossing one of the most heavily fortified sections of the border.
Illegal crossings will soon get even tougher. President Bush is sending 6,000 National Guard troops to the border, Congress is mulling its own enforcement plans and starting next month this busy frontier across from Tijuana will be monitored by remote surveillance cameras.
So the underground beckons.
The tunnels channel rainwater out of flood-prone areas, but when the waters aren’t running, the waves of migrants flow, a phenomenon that has bedeviled agents for years and has gotten worse recently as aboveground routes have become more heavily patrolled.
The cat-and-mouse game took an ironic turn last month when migrants even surfaced outside the offices of the U.S. Border Tunnel Task Force. Those manhole covers — one in a secured parking lot — were welded shut after that, one of them also topped with three 35-pound bags of rocks and gravel.
But six more manholes, all potential escape hatches, lie within a block of the federal facility.
“They’re all interlinked, so you never know where they’ll come up,” said David Badger, a Border Patrol supervisor.
Other border cities have wrestled with similar situations, most notably Nogales, Ariz., which is linked underground to Nogales, Mexico, by two large storm-drain tunnels patrolled regularly by heavily armed agents.
Unlike Nogales, the drainage system under Otay Mesa doesn’t extend into Mexico. But most of the tunnel outlets are just a quick run from the border. Illegal immigrants typically traverse the pipes, many of which are 2 to 3 feet in diameter, at night, sometimes crawling for hours. Vehicles waiting on deserted streets then whisk them to stash houses.
Border Patrol agents have arrested hundreds of migrants exiting storm drains in the last year but don’t know how many get through. Some estimate that thousands make it.
Mexican President Vicente Fox praised Mexican immigrants for pushing Washington on immigration reform on Friday, the last day of a U.S. trip during which he drew Republican barbs over the issue.
“We know about their contributions to this economy and to this country. We know about their loyalty to those who they work for,” Fox said in a speech.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate backed an immigration bill that would give millions of illegal immigrants a chance to become American citizens.
“They fought for it. They earned what they got yesterday,” Fox told a California Chamber of Commerce audience.
Mark Steyn is not clapping:
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Aside from the entitlement explosion and the national security issues, this bill is a cynical corruption of the integrity of US sovereignty and citizenship.
My wife and the kids had their Green Cards stolen the other day. Cost of replacement of legal permanent resident cards: $1,040. Fine for 20 years of law-breaking within the United States: $2,000, less Social Security and EITC entitlements. Hmm.
I told the missus to hold off filling in the form for the replacement card. Having been rendered inadvertently undocumented, she may at last be in the winning category.
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