Part 3: Dumped in border cities with little money and few connections, desperate deportees sometimes turn to crime.
Law enforcement officials on both sides of the border are seeing a crime wave fueled by U.S. deportation policies, which dump busloads of criminal immigrants in large groups at border cities like Tijuana.
“Nobody saw this coming,” said Tijuana’s Mayor Kurt Honald, who has protested the dumping of criminals at the Tijuana gates. He says deportees have triggered a 300 percent rise in petty crime during the last year, as criminals raise money for a return to the U.S. Others join narcotics cartels and smuggling organizations to pay for their return.
“They just go right back to the United States. It’s a vicious cycle,” Honald warns.
U.S. Border Patrol agents don’t disagree. They say that apprehensions along the canyons that dot San Diego’s border backcountry are increasingly turning into confrontations, since criminals know their fingerprints will be run through a U.S. database.
“The criminals are the most determined to get back in,” said Border Patrol spokesman James Jacques, who works in the San Diego sector. “And once they realize that the cuffs are going on, then the fight’s on.”
An Orange County investigation has found that:
o Deporting criminals to Tijuana encourages their speedy return because they are dropped off close to the border, in a strange city that is closer to their adopted home than their birthplace.
o There is virtually no communication between U.S. officials deporting criminals and local law enforcement in Tijuana, who receive them. Mexican police say they seldom know whether the deportees ushered through the border gate were arrested for driving while intoxicated or served a prison term for rape or murder.
o Dumping criminals back into cities unable to absorb so many homeless, jobless new residents fuels a crime wave on both sides of the border, provides soldiers for criminal gangs and internationalizes criminal syndicates. Some deportees with no history of violent crime turn to it out of desperation.
Criminal deportees represent about one-third—84,652 in the year ended Sept. 30—of ICE formal deportations across the United States. And they are quickly becoming the leading category of deportee being processed by ICE. Under pressure from Congress to step up immigration enforcement, the Bush administration has expanded funding for a series of programs that seek to deport illegal immigrants out of a myriad of federal, state and local jails.
A BUS TO THE BORDER
The bus trip to Tijuana starts on most mornings at the federal building in Santa Ana, where a large tour bus with shiny metal siding and Department of Homeland Security logos picks up deportees from across Southern California.
By the late afternoon, sometimes as late as midnight, the DHS bus pulls up near the noisy revolving metal gates used by tourists walking into Tijuana.
As the public gate clangs away—creating a sound so deafening that U.S. and Mexican officials can barely hear each other—deportees are led off the bus and lined up against the border fence. After the Mexican border guard verifies their citizenship—mostly through a set of basic questions about their home state—deportees walk through the gate.
Just beyond the border gate, as tourists and others walk by, groups of criminal deportees are putting the laces back onto their shoes. Most quickly start emptying the plastic bags that contain their possessions.
Those who have been deported before say the plastic bags and deportation papers are a dead give-away to the Tijuana police, who many deportees and human rights activists accuse of harassing and robbing deportees.
Tijuana Police Subcommander Blanca Torres Gallego, 45, said instances of harassment and robbery are known to occur. But she said most police check on the deportees because they have become part of a petty crime wave in Tijuana.
The human rights activists working with deportees at the gate advise them to go to the shelters mainly because they issue an ID card, which will help them avoid jail if stopped by local police. Well-behaved deportees can stay up to two weeks.
But because many of the shelters are run by church groups—meaning no alcohol, tobacco, drugs or sex—many criminal deportees end up renting motel rooms in the city’s roughest neighborhood. Those that can’t afford a cheap motel room end up living on the street or along Tijuana’s riverbed.
In some cases, the deportees end up creating their own small gangs while bonding with the bus passengers they met on the ride from Santa Ana.
Harry Pachon, who studies immigration at the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC, said the growth of the coyote industry—and the criminal gangs who support it—is an outgrowth of the tougher border enforcement.
“The more successful we are in border enforcement, the more we incentivize organized crime to move in because we’re creating a higher profit margin in smuggling,” Pachon said.