Coming to America

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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