Coming to America


| March 20, 2002


Coming to America

In 1994, when President Clinton launched Operation Gatekeeper, he hoped that doubling the Border patrol would slow illegal Mexican immigrants from coming to the United States. Gone would be the days of taking a taxi to the outskirts of Tijuana, hopping over a strand of barbed wire, and making a dash into California--and gone would be the days of our illegal immigrant problem. Instead, as Dan Baum reports in the Monterey Coast Weekly, the crackdown on immigrants has backfired by helping to create an immigrant smuggling industry.

Mexicans seeking passage to the United States must now enlist the help of a pollero - slang for the guide needed to elude the Border Patrol, says Baum, but literally meaning 'chickenherd,' for the way migrants follow them like hens following a bowl of grain. But no single pollero guides a migrant all the way from a Mexican border town to safety on the other side; several polleros specialize in different stages of the journey. In a complex system that risks the lives of the immigrants by traveling through a treacherous stretch of desert, the polleros usually charge $1,500 American dollars for their services.

While it's not against Mexican law to try to sneak into the U.S., it's a serious crime to be a pollero. Suspected polleros are denied bail, and if convicted, the minimum sentence is seven years. Polleros are so despised - even by the immigrants - that they're seen as the paupers of the criminal world. But as long as there is an inexhaustible supply of Mexicans and Central Americans willing to risk their lives to work in the United States, the illicit economy of people smuggling will continue.
--Kate Garsombke
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