On Patrol South of the Mexican Border
LIANE HANSEN, host:
The Bosnians in St. Louis came to this country legally as refugees. It's the other immigrants coming to the country without permission who have become such a hot political topic these days. Democrats are trying to decide whether to grant them driver's licenses while Republicans are mostly calling for tougher enforcement, building fences and beefing up the effectiveness of agents who patrol the border. It turns out that Mexico, where the vast majority of illegal immigrants come from, has its own border patrol.
But when reporter Claes Andreasson paid a visit to Grupo Beta, as it's called, he found they had a very different mandate from their American counterparts.
(Soundbite of people talking)
CLAES ANDREASSON: The clatter from the nearby Tijuana border crossing echoes through the backyard of the office of the Mexican border patrol Grupo Beta. One of the agents and I huddle in the back of an orange pickup. We're heading about 25 miles east. Our destination is a small canyon called Explanava Vajuda Dondo(ph). There's an old abandoned house in the canyon, it's partly in ruins but this building still serves as a resting place for migrants on their way to the U.S.
Mr. OSVALDO OROPEZA-MARIN(ph) (Police officer, Grupo Beta): (Spanish spoken)
ANDREASSON: Officer Osvaldo Oropeza-Marin reads out the names of hometowns that migrants have engraved on the walls. Many names, he says, people from many places have passed through here.
Mr. MARIN: (Spanish spoken)
ANDREASSON: It's not a crime for these Mexicans to leave their country. So Grupo Beta doesn't arrest them. In fact, the officers hand out canned food and water bottles and explain to the migrants what their rights are. But crossing the border remains dangerous.
Officer Antonio Rodriguez Flores(ph) told us that there are any number of threats.
Mr. ANTONIO RODRIGUEZ FLORES(ph) (Police Officer, Mexico): (Through translator) The heat can be difficult to handle. The terrain is rugged so you can easily hurt yourself. There are also many dangerous animals hidden on the ground here, like snakes, tarantulas and rats. But the most dangerous things to encounter are the human beings.
ANDREASSON: Rodriguez Flores is referring to the robbers, the rapists and the human smugglers, who charge up to $3,000 to sneak a person into the U.S. Grupo Beta also helps people who have been deported back to Mexico. The officers sometimes refer them to a shelter in Tijuana called Casa del Migrante.
Unidentified Woman#1: (Spanish spoken)
ANDREASSON: Here at the shelter, the deportees can get a meal and a place to sleep for a few nights. Between 800 and 900 men pass through Casa del Migrante every month.
Lucio(ph) is one of them. He's in a bed in the shelter's medical ward. His left leg is bandaged. He injured it in an accident when he tried to cross the border. Lucio lived in Riverside, California for 30 years. But recently, agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided his worksite.
LUCIO: They just pick you up and whatever you grab that you can get, but if you can grab nothing at a time like that, no phone numbers or anything. Any ID or - yeah, that's it.
ANDREASSON: Lucio was deported but he and a couple of migrants attempted to cross back over the border a few days later. They walked for a couple of hours before immigration officers chased them down.
LUCIO: They just chased us and that's when I had the accident. I fell down and I broke my leg.
ANDREASSON: So now when your leg is healed, would you try to cross again?
LUCIO: Yeah, I think so, yeah.
ANDREASSON: For the past seven years, Abre Luis(ph) has been the director of the shelter. He says the United States needs a new immigration policy but he's critical about the ideas he's heard so far. For example, Abre Luis thinks it's exploitation to give migrants temporary work permits.
Mr. ABRE LUIS (Director, Casa del Migrante): Just giving the temporary visa, for me, seems like that the United States can get the young people - 18, 20 years - use them for 10 years and then throw them away like your car and we'd buy a new one.
Unidentified Woman #2: (Speaking foreign language)
ANDREASSON: Back at the canyon, Grupo Beta continues to patrol the popular migrant route. The Mexicans are still trying to cross the border and Officer Orropeza-Marin says the Grupo Beta agents are still looking out for them.
Mr. OROPEZA-MARIN: (Through translator) The most essential thing for all of us is to help people, orient them, and then everything works out for them. So, the humanitarian, how we offer, is absolutely our most important job.
ANDREASSON: For NPR News, I'm Claes Andreasson.
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