From immigration officers to immigrant smugglers

Activists warn that increasing vigilance will increase the participation of agents in human trafficking

From immigration officers to immigrant smugglersSan Ysidro Port of Entry. Eduardo Flores Campbell
San Ysidro Port of Entry. Eduardo Flores Campbell

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During the last few years, agents from the U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have been converting into immigrant smugglers. The costs for people trying to cross the border and enlisting the services of a Border Patrol agent have skyrocketed and are around $5,000 and $10,000 dollars.

They say they you can't compare them to illegal smugglers, that the price will be well worth it, and it's because when you contact a border patrol agent they assure the immigrants that the crossing will be “safe, comfortable and high quality”, they also add that they deliver the service right to your home.

Ernesto Pacheco, as he called himself to protect his identity, explained the process to get into the United States by requesting the service from a CBP agent. The chain of corruption starts in the city of Tijuana, through a woman named “Claudia”

“They offered me the service for $ 6,000 dollars, because I was only crossing over with my brother to San Diego, but those who would be taken all the way to Los Angeles paid a fee that was $ 9,500 dollars” he says they picked him up in the “Colonia Federal” which is located just a few meters away from the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

They got him into a fancy truck being driven by the same woman “Claudia” who said she was dating the immigration agent working at the San Ysidro Border crossing.

“In the truck there were 4 people plus a copilot, and 3 people where siting in the back seat, I was underneath all of them, I laid down and they all put their feet on me” , mentioned the Mexican that now works in San Diego North County.

It was an afternoon in June 2011, when Ernesto Pacheco managed to cross the border, the mechanism he used to cross was based on telephone conversations. The CBP agent informs which lane he will be working on and “Claudia” has to move to where she is told.

“Traffic starts speeding up, he's letting cars go through quickly, when it came time to check us he only asked for the driver's passport and let her through without checking anything, but he did it with the rest of the vehicles to conceal the fact that he had let us through”

Ernesto had lived all his life in the United States, however in early 2011 he was deported, he only remained in Tijuana for 6 months and tried to cross by the mountains but it didn't work, until he crossed the San Ysidro Point of Entry.

Agents have been Prosecuted and Sentenced

In the last few days, two agents from the CBP have been sentenced to 30-35 years in prison: Raul and Fidel Villarreal, brothers that according to the District Attorney of Southern California, smuggled around one thousand undocumented immigrants.

It is estimated that the

CBP agents, received more than a million dollars in bribes. The District Attorneys office in California argued, “The accused are experienced agents, 10 year veterans. This was not a case of rookies who lost their way and got involved with the wrong people. They knew they had committed themselves to defending the border. However these agents created their own organization just to fill up their pockets”.

In some cases the CBP agents were aided by the Tijuana Municipal Police, who took the immigrants all the way to the mountains and then were transported to the United States by the brothers. Raul Villarreal was even a spokesman in Washington for the border patrol, and ironically recorded a TV commercial warning Mexicans about the risks of being crossed over by smugglers.The brothers would earn around $10,000 to $13,000 per trip, and they would do them 3 to 4 times a week, and sometimes several times a day.

Another recent case was that of Marcos Gerardo Manzano, also a CBP in the San Ysidro Point of Entry. His crime however was to harbor his Mexican father who had been deported from the United States for possession of Marihuana with intent of distribution.

An increase is forewarned

Enrique Morones, Director of the organization “Border Angels”, considers that the increase in border patrol agents to reinforce the border has caused that many of them are being hired without actually being qualified for the job.

He also expressed that in the last few years there has been a huge increase in corruption inside the U.S Customs and Border Protection Agency.“Some of them are people who are not qualified to enter other corporations and here is where they get jobs” he says regretfully.

Pedro Rios, Director of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in San Diego said that the increase of corruption started in the last 10 years, where roughly 200 cases of corruption have been logged.

Both considered that if the militarization of the border is approved and the implementation of an additional 20,000 CBP agents, the corruption will keep spreading, and the number of “CBP smugglers” will increase.

Laura.Sanchez@sandiegored.com

Daniel.Aguilar@sandiegored.com

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