Border crossers brave flames, get burned: 6 are hospitalized; more than 200 arrested
Union Tribune (2007-10-24) Leslie Berestein
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More Info: Harris Ranch Fire
Illegal border crossers brave flames, get burned
Six are hospitalized; more than 200 arrested
By Leslie Berestein
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
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
“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.”