Big hips block tunnel to U.S.
SAN DIEGO (AP) – The path to the United States for 14 people trying to sneak in from Mexico was blocked not by Border Patrol agents or barbed wire, but by a man’s hips.
The group had tunneled into U.S. drains from Mexico, U.S. and Mexican authorities said, and two made it across the border.
Trouble was, a nearly 200-pound man was third in line and became stuck at the hips as he tried to squeeze onto U.S. land.
“I’d tell you that was poor planning,” said James Jacques, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, when asked why one of the biggest members of the party had been put near the front of the line.
The blockage trapped four people behind the man, prompting firefighters to use jackhammers to widen the opening of the drainage tunnel and free the man, Jacques said.
The other four were then pulled out. All appeared uninjured, although one woman was taken to a hospital because she was sick from “breathing stuffy air,” said Maurice Luque, a spokesman with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
It took about two hours to free the five, who were all in their 20s, Luque said.
Two other people who had gotten through the tunnel ahead of the larger man were apprehended in a parking lot just north of the second of two fences that separate the U.S. from Mexico. They were captured in an industrial section of San Diego that’s about nine miles east of the Tijuana border crossing.
Seven more people who were behind that group managed to crawl back into Mexico through the tunnel.
Border Patrol agents had noticed the 14 gathering on the Mexican side shortly before 7 a.m. They moved in to apprehend the first two after they emerged on the U.S. side and found the five others trapped.
The tunnel, only about 2 feet across, is part of San Diego’s storm drainage system, and authorities were investigating how it was breached from the Mexican side. Jacques said it was most likely someone had connected a makeshift tunnel to the storm system.
He said a tragedy easily could have occurred in the narrow tunnel, which emitted a fetid, dirty water smell at its opening. Upon arriving, firefighters checked to make sure the air inside was breathable and were prepared to break open the entire tunnel if it wasn’t.
“This to me illustrates how little smugglers care about human life,” Jacques said at the scene. “They risked these people’s lives and that’s unconscionable.”
Luis Cabrera, Mexico’s Consul General in San Diego, said the group had been taken into the tunnel by a guide, but he was not one of the individuals arrested.
“We know the conditions were terrible and difficult, people should not put their lives in the hands of these traffickers,” Cabrera said.
Jacques said the group’s capture shows it is getting harder to sneak across the border into the United States.
“This is an example of the fact that people are getting more desperate and trying other means,” he said.