Thursday, December 11, 2008

Border crossings shift back to California routes

Associated Press
December 9, 2008

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) - In a flash the two men were over the double fence and into the San Diego parking lot. As a waiting pickup truck sped them away, the smuggler who boosted them over the 15-foot walls scrambled toward Mexico.

Border Patrol agents could only tag Juan Garcia's black sweatshirt with pepper spray bullets as he escaped back over the wall to Tijuana, red-eyed and coughing but $30 richer for a few seconds of daring labor.

It's just another night along the most heavily guarded stretch of U.S.-Mexico frontier, where Border Patrol apprehensions of illegal crossers have increased 28 percent since 2005 - even as apprehensions have dropped nearly 40 percent border-wide over the same period. While illegal crossings are impossible to count, experts look to Border Patrol apprehensions as the best indicator of migrant traffic.

The Tijuana area's surprising increase is a booming business for cut-rate daredevils like Garcia, who are willing to try almost anything to get their clients across."I'll get you a bicycle, and I'll throw you over the fence with the bike," said part-time smuggler Giovanni Lopez, 28, after watching Garcia climb over. "But I'll also get you a little helmet and everything, so the Border Patrol thinks you're...what's the word in English? Exercising."

And I cross over with you until a certain point, and I come back like this," he said, brushing away his tracks with an imaginary tree branch.

The Border Patrol's San Diego Sector - which covers 60 miles of border from the Pacific Ocean through strip malls and shanty towns into a boulder-strewn desert - is no stranger to such cat-and-mouse games. But its recent growth in traffic is driven by a curious convergence of strategies by both immigrants and the U.S. officials who chase them.

Analysts say the migrants encountering ever-increasing enforcement in the Arizona desert are bouncing back to California's traditional smuggling corridors, which offer shorter, cooler treks to cities and highways. The Border Patrol, meanwhile, takes migrants caught in Arizona to San Diego for deportation, hoping to break their ties to desert smugglers.

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