Features

On the border of madness

"On the border of madness" Continued...

Issue: "Trailer park blues," Nov. 26, 2005

Even then, there's no assurance of success. The United States accepts a limited number of unskilled workers on temporary visas each year. Mr. Sanchez says he just wants to find a job. But that might not be good enough for immigration officials. Migrants have a better shot at earning a work visa if they have proof a job is waiting for them in the United States. Few actually have real plans.

If migrants understand the process and cost of illegal entry, most underestimate the danger. Mr. Martinez, a 22-year Border Patrol veteran, answered a distress call from an agent patrolling the river to discover a scene he says is all too common. A Honduran family of four-including a woman, her two children, and her brother-in-law-had just been robbed at 5 p.m. by smugglers rafting them across the river.

Once on the American side, the river smugglers-called bandits by the Border Patrol-forced the man and two children to strip naked and searched them for money. The Border Patrol agent arrived as the bandits began to strip the woman. Later, she told Border Patrol agents the bandits said they planned to rape her, and she believed they would have if the agents had not arrived.

Bandits are becoming more dangerous. Smugglers called coyotes act as general contractors, hiring under-age bandit kids to raft migrants across the river. Even if the Border Patrol catches them, those who are minors cannot be prosecuted.

From across the river, the bandits hurl insults at agents. Sometimes it's not only words. Last month Mr. Martinez says the bandits hurled rocks across the river with crude catapults, eventually opening up a bloody gash on the face of an agent. Finally, agents opened fire, wounding one of the bandits. Since then, the callow youth have taunted the Border Patrol for firing back: "Asesinos," -or "assassins"-cries one from across the river after the rape is foiled.

"Why don't you pay for the medical bills?" shouts another who sits on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande drinking a Miller Lite and waiting for the sun to go down and another night's work to begin.

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