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Border crossers brave flames, get burned: 6 are hospitalized; more than 200 arrested

Union Tribune (2007-10-24) Leslie Berestein

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Illegal border crossers brave flames, get burned

Six are hospitalized; more than 200 arrested

By Leslie Berestein


October 24, 2007

The Harris fire along the U.S.-Mexico border is affecting various aspects of immigration in San Diego County, in particular the busy human-smuggling routes surrounding Tecate and Campo.

Six illegal border crossers are hospitalized with burn injuries, and one of them is in critical condition, said Alberto Lozano, a spokesman for the Mexican Consulate in San Diego. He said the six men, all from central and southern Mexico, were rescued Monday by firefighters north of the shuttered Tecate port of entry and transported to UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.

Hospital spokeswoman Debra Kain would not confirm the identity or immigration status of any of the 16 patients in the hospital's burn unit yesterday, saying only that four are firefighters and the rest civilians.

Lozano said U.S. officials have asked the Mexican government to disseminate information to Mexican nationals not to cross in the fire zone, regardless of what smugglers tell them.

“We believe they are trying to convince them that even though there is a huge fire in front of them, that it is possible to cross without harm, which is impossible,” Lozano said. “They will meet their death there.”

Since the fire started Sunday, the U.S. Border Patrol has arrested more than 200 people in the fire zone, agent Matthew Johnson said. Many turned themselves in to agents or firefighters to be rescued, he said.

As the fire moved west along the border, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement temporarily stopped taking new detainees at its Otay Mesa detention center, which until yesterday afternoon was being prepared for possible evacuation.

Agency spokeswoman Lauren Mack said the fire has bypassed the center, but added that arresting agencies are being asked to hold on to anyone who must be detained for deportation until the fire threat passes.

Mack denied rumors that have circulated in some North County communities that immigration raids have occurred during this week's fire evacuations. The agency has not been arresting fire evacuees, she said.

The San Diego sector of the Border Patrol, which has been assisting with evacuations, traffic control and other fire-related operations, has said it is not conducting raids or sweeps and that finding immigration violators is not a primary concern.

“I am sure that if the agents are aware someone was breaking the law, the agents would arrest them,” Johnson said, citing an incident during the Cedar fire in 2003 in which agents came across people at a home growing marijuana, leading to the residents' eventual arrest. “We don't suddenly stop enforcing laws.”

Media Form edit

Title Border crossers brave flames, get burned: 6 are hospitalized; more than 200 arrested
Publisher Union Tribune
Author Leslie Berestein
Pub Date 2007-10-24
Media Link
Keywords Harris Ranch Fire
Media Type Linked Article
Author Name Sortable
Topic revision: r1 - 2007-10-29, RaymondLutz
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