Border Agent Accused Of Hiding Illegal Immigrants

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A U.S. Border Patrol agent in San Diego has been arrested for hiding his undocumented father and other people in the U.S. illegally. Authorities took Marcos Gerardo Manzano Jr. into custody earlier this week. They've charged him with harboring illegal immigrants at his home and lying to federal investigators, who had asked him about his whereabouts. The incident is raising concerns about the very people charged with protecting the U.S.-Mexico border.

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In Southern California, a U.S. Border Patrol agent has been charged with harboring undocumented immigrants in his home and lying about it. Among the people authorities claim he harbored was his own father.

From member station KPBS in San Diego, Amita Sharma reports.

AMITA SHARMA: Until this week, Marco Gerardo Manzano, Jr. lived on a street called Shooting Star Drive in the border community of San Ysidro. For the last three months, his father, Marco Gerardo Manzano, Sr., was also reportedly seen working in the yard at the home, and coming and going daily.

It's not unusual for a father to visit his son for an extended stay, except in this case the dad is a deported felon, and the son is a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Mr. PETER NUNEZ: (Former U.S. Attorney, San Diego): There certainly have been Border Patrol agents in the past that have been involved in various corrupt activities.

SHARMA: Peter Nunez is a former U.S. attorney in San Diego.

Mr. NUNEZ: But obviously in this case, with the agent covering for his father, and actually harboring him apparently, it's more than ironic that the guy hired to enforce immigration laws is violating those same laws.

SHARMA: Manzano, Sr., was first deported from the U.S. to Mexico in 2007, but later that year he resurfaced in the U.S., was convicted for selling marijuana and deported again. Court papers say Manzano, Jr. told federal investigators last month he knew his dad was a convict who had been deported, but he didn't know where his father was.

Later that month, according to U.S. wiretaps, Manzano, Sr. was heard on the telephone saying his son had informed him that quote, "they were looking for him." Nunez says there could have been an honorable way out for the son.

Mr. NUNEZ: The son should have told his father, look at, you know, I cannot help you, and, in fact, I'm obligated to report you if I know that you are here in the country. So don't put me in that situation. Don't make me choose between my loyalty to you and my loyalty to my oath as a law enforcement officer.

SHARMA: Manzano's alleged choice is a crude reminder of what immigration reform activist Christian Ramirez believes are flawed policies.

Mr. CHRISTIAN RAMIREZ (Immigration Reform Activist): It reflects the fact that our immigration policies are out of touch with the reality of what it is to live in the U.S.-Mexico border. Our immigration policy is designed to split families apart. It's designed to pit family members against family members.

SHARMA: Federal prosecutors told a judge in court yesterday that Manzano, Jr. may have done more than help his father. Investigators found an underground room in the Border Patrol agent's home.

Mr. DARRELL FOXWORTH: (Spokesman FBI, San Diego): Well, it does draw some concerns as far as what the room was going to be used for.

SHARMA: Darrell Foxworth is a spokesman for the FBI in San Diego.

Mr. FOXWORTH: What comes to mind most often in criminal investigations, that it could be used to conceal drugs, people, or other contraband.

SHARMA: Federal agents did discover another man who had previously been deported hiding inside that room. They also found a couple ounces of methamphetamine in the house, as well as drug packing materials.

Manzano, Jr. pleaded not guilty in court yesterday to charges he aided and abetted illegal immigrants and lied to a federal officer. His father remains a fugitive.

For NPR News, I'm Amita Sharma in San Diego.

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