- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2006

SASABE, Mexico — The old brickyard, known here as “la ladrillera,” is the last stop in Mexico for many migrants headed illegally into the United States.

This is where the “coyotes” give last-minute instructions to their human cargo, who each will pay fees ranging from $1,500 to $2,000 to be guided on the sometimes-deadly northbound trek into America. It’s a three-day walk through the desert, where temperatures often climb above 110 degrees.

For Gilbert Reyes, a self-proclaimed capitalist, the business to be in is alien smuggling. And, yes, business is “very good”: The number of illegals crossing into the U.S., always high in this area, has risen steadily over the past two years — ever since President Bush first announced his “guest worker” program.

“They want to get into the United States, and they are willing to do almost anything, even walk for miles and miles in the desert,” said Reyes, a tall, thin man with a distinctive mustache and a pearl-handled knife stuck in a leather sheath on his belt.

Reyes, who introduced himself and four associates during a meeting here last week as “successful local businessmen,” said his “customers” think they “can go into America and get a pass to stay.”

“Maybe they can. Maybe they can’t,” he said.

Hundreds of migrants arrive here every day from throughout Mexico, others coming from Central and South America and elsewhere. They crowd into the town’s numerous shacks and tents during daylight hours to await the call to assemble for their nighttime dash into America.

Some are beaten and robbed before they ever step foot in this dusty town of 4,000. Some of the women will be raped.

But they keep coming.

U.S. law-enforcement authorities and elected officials in Arizona say large numbers of migrants now flooding into the United States are hoping to cash in on what they perceive as an amnesty program if they can establish residence and a work record in this country.

These migrants are bolstered by the much-publicized debate in Congress over immigration reform and “guest workers” — and by the millions of pro-immigration and pro-amnesty supporters who defiantly have rallied in cities throughout the United States.

The Border Patrol has reported a 6 percent increase in the number of apprehensions of illegal aliens along the 1,951-mile U.S.-Mexico border since Oct. 1, with more than 724,600 illegals arrested. That’s more than 4,000 arrests a day.

More than half of those arrests have taken place in Arizona, mostly over a long-established alien-smuggling corridor that begins in Altar, Mexico, 60 miles south of this Sonoran border town, and runs northbound through the desolate Altar Valley in Arizona, southwest of Tucson.

Looking to make connections along State Highway 86 and Interstate 10, the illegals already have paid their fees during negotiations in Altar, where they also bought water, food, backpacks and other supplies.

Arizona state Rep. Russell Pearce, Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a longtime proponent of increased immigration enforcement by the federal government, said he thinks the recent rise in illegal-alien traffic may be as high as 20 percent, based on what U.S. Border Patrol field agents have told him.

“Absolutely the numbers are way up, nobody denies that,” Mr. Pearce told The Washington Times in an interview Thursday. “And the draw is the promise of a guest-worker program or amnesty now being debated in Washington. These people are expecting to be rewarded for breaking the law, and Congress wants to go along with it.”

Mr. Pearce said lawmakers in border states are “tired of waiting” for Congress and the White House to enforce federal immigration law, and while both have “made a lot of promises, they have delivered nothing.” He said before a guest-worker program is approved, “they better figure out how to secure our borders and enforce the laws already on the books.”

The House passed a bill in December that focused on enforcement, and the Senate is debating legislation that would create a guest-worker program. The latter would give the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the United States legal status and a pathway to permanent citizenship.

The Senate hopes to have its bill done by this summer, and then it will have to work out differences with the House measure.

Meanwhile, hundreds continue to arrive here daily, off- loaded from trucks and vans from Altar to be escorted on foot at night along well-worn trails across the border and into Arizona. They hide during the day until being picked up along the highway and taken to points east, west and north, or to “safe houses” in Phoenix from where they will be transported later to other states.

In 2004, after Mr. Bush first outlined his guest-worker program, a Border Patrol survey of arrested aliens found that 45 percent were influenced to come to this country by the promise of amnesty. The White House put a stop to the survey after its existence was reported by the press.

Reyes, who admits to a drug-smuggling conviction in the U.S., acknowledged having “other names, but I just liked using this one today.” He said migrants crowd into town waiting to hook up with coyotes armed with sophisticated weapons, Global Positioning System equipment and mobile radios.

“A lot of people are making a lot of money here. You could say it’s a bit of capitalism at its best,” this smuggler of humans said with a laugh and a swig of tequila. “God bless America.”

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