The nightly trickle of illegal immigrants flowing out of Mexico and into California clutch inner tubes, keep their clothes dry in plastic bags, and ignore the shouts of the border patrol, reports CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen.
"I was trying to tell them to get out. It's raw sewage. They're going to get sick," explained Border Patrol Officer Manuel Figueroa.
Their escape route is the New River, a sewer really, of industrial pollutants, farm runoff, and human waste.
"To me it was unimaginable that someone would jump in sewage and come north, but people do it," said Figueroa.
| The Border Patrol|
|The Border Patrol, the mobile uniformed branch of the INS is charged with the detection and prevention of smuggling and illegal entry of aliens into the U.S. Agents patrol the border on foot, horseback, 4-wheel-drive vehicles, ATV's, mountain bikes, boats and aircraft.Source: INS|
And they ignore the Border Patrol because they know the agents won't come near.
"We don't want our officers going in that river because every disease known to man is there. It's just an operational nightmare for us because the alien smugglers know that, as well as the aliens, that our officers are not going to get in the river," said Harold Beasley, the acting Chief of the Border Patrol.
Ever since "Operation Gatekeeeper" closed off the easy border crossings with steel fences and the increased surveillance, migrants have used riskier routes. Like the New River and the nearby All American Canal. 32 people drowned in the canal last year.
"Each year, they keep being pushed further east into the Imperial Valley where they're dying in the desert, drowning in the All American Canal, getting into the New River,"
| Operation Gatekeeper|
|The U.S. Bordr Patrol launched Operation Gatekeeper in October 1994 in a portion of the California-Mexico border that accounted for 25% of illegal border crossings nationwide.|
Before Gatekeeper was initiated, there were 450,152 apprehensions and for 1997, after Gatekeeper, there were 283,889. According to the INS, this shows the success of Operation Gatekeeper.
explained activist Roberto Martinez.
The New River is tested monthly by technicians in hazardous materials suits. 30 viruses, from Hepatitus A to Polio, have been confirmed here.
Jose Angel of the California Water Resources Board said, "You put fish in a bowl of water and you don't change the water, the fish is going to go belly up. Well, the fish are belly up here. The river is dead in other words."
| The New River/Mexicali Sanitation Program|
|A four year, $57 million plan has been devised by the U.S. and Mexico to deal with the pollution in the New River. The pollution, industrial waste and raw sewage, comes primarily from the Mexican side of the river. The New River flows north from Mexico into the U.S.|
There is a joint U.S./Mexican plan to reduce the foamy industrial waste and raw sewage that flows into the New River. A four-year, $57 million program for new sewers and treatment plants on the Mexican side of the border. If it works, the river will be dramatically cleaner.
Safer too for the flow of migrants which is not expected to stop.
"When we apprehend them, we're basically handling them like they're contaminated because of the chemicals in there. We try to send them back to Mexico as quickly as possible," said Figueroa.
But for every arrest, there are many more signs of success: empty inner tubes and plastic bags left on the banks of the New River by those who made it to America.
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