Border Report: Deadly Crash Linked to Human Smuggling Operation

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Border Report: Deadly Crash Linked to Human Smuggling Operation

Locals aren’t happy about new surveillance, a bill in Congress puts EPA in charge of sewage reduction and more in our biweekly roundup of border news.

San Diego border
The U.S. and Mexico border fence in San Diego / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

One of the deadliest highway crashes involving migrants crossing into the United States killed 13 people last week.

The incident has been linked to a human smuggling operation.

Surveillance video showed a Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Suburban drove through a section of the border wall that had been cut away near Imperial Valley Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reports.

The Suburban caught fire, but all 19 people inside escaped and were taken into Border Patrol custody. The Expedition, which had 25 people in it, continued and a tractor-trailer struck it shortly after, according to the AP. Several of the people identified in the crash who died or were hospitalized were Mexican citizens and some were Guatemalan, ABC News reports, though not everyone’s residences have been identified.

The surveillance footage cited by the AP hasn’t been released publicly because the incident is still under investigation.

One of those who died was 23-year-old Guatemalan Yesenia Magali Melendrez Cardona. She, along with her mother, were coming to join her father, who had come to the United States 15 years earlier, the Los Angeles Times reported.

El sueño Americano no se le cumplió,” Yesenia’s father told the Times. She couldn’t reach the American dream.

Telemundo 20 spoke to a family from Guerrero, Mexico, that was granted a humanitarian visa to visit their 16-year-old son who was injured in the crash. The son was headed to Utah to stay and work with relatives. His mother told Telemundo 20 that he was fleeing poverty.

Locals Don’t Seem Happy About New Border Surveillance Law

In my last Border Report, I wrote about all the new surveillance tech that has been coming to ports of entry, and a new law that would require all commercial and passenger vehicles entering the United States to be scanned with an X-ray or similar imaging system.

The Union-Tribune ran several op-eds in response to the law, most of which raised serious concerns.

Rudy Lopez, a small business owner in the craft beer industry in Tijuana and a San Ysidro resident, warned that requiring the scans is a looming nightmare for cross-border supply chains.

Sara Gonzalez-Quintero, a transborder sociologist and Imperial Beach resident, argued that the increased surveillance would not only increase delays, but would contribute to the growing militarization of the border – both of which could be hazardous to the health of people who cross for school, work, health care, family and more.

Joaquín Vázquez, the executive director of Organizing for Progress, called the new law an economic and humanitarian disaster, while Steve Williams and Jose Larroque, co-chairs of the San Diego-Tijuana Smart Border Coalition, point out that the legislation allows for more flexibility and the incremental rollout of inspections over six years.

A new report from the San Diego Association of Governments reinforced some of these economic concerns, City News Service reports. Border crossing delays have cost the San Diego-Tijuana region at least $3.4 billion and 88,000 jobs, the report found.

The delays have also become an environmental concern, resulting in an average of 457 metric tons of carbon dioxide each day, which is equivalent to the consumption of more than 51,400 gallons of gasoline. Greenhouse gas emissions from the border delays are expected to increase through 2025, though they will eventually start decreasing again thanks to improvements in cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Speaking of Border Environmental Concerns …

A new bill would put the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of improving water quality in the Tijuana and New rivers and reducing cross-border pollution, City News Service reports.

The Border Water Quality Restoration and Protection Act, introduced by California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, would not only designate the EPA as the lead agency on the effort, but would also require the EPA and other agencies to identify a list of priority projects to fix the pollution issues and authorize the EPA to distribute federal, state and local funds to build, operate and maintain those infrastructure projects. Feinstein detailed why she wanted one agency in charge in a Voice of San Diego op-ed last year.

VOSD’s Mackenzie Elmer and Tijuana Press’ Vicente Calderón dug into what Mexico has been doing to address the cross-border sewage issue. Rigoberto Laborín Valdez, the undersecretary of sanitation and the protection of water in Baja California, told Elmer and Calderón that Mexico doesn’t need the United States to help fix the issue.

Indeed, Mexico has added new infrastructure that’s improved the situation and has plans to fix remaining issues, but U.S. officials say despite that work, sewage continues to flow and beaches in San Diego continue to close because of it.

Updates on the Undoing of ‘Remain in Mexico’

  • Asylum-seekers have started pitching tents and setting up camp outside El Chaparral, the Tijuana side of the San Ysidro Port of Entry Pedwest crossing, in hopes they will be processed for asylum in the United States soon. (Union-Tribune)
  • One family that was among the first to enter the United States after being enrolled in the Migration Protection Protocols — or so-called “Remain in Mexico” program — told KPBS that they’re not even sleeping because they are so happy to finally reach the United States.

More Border News

  • Families of Mexico’s disappeared have been fighting for — and have been promised by the government — a DNA lab to better identify bodies. But so far, nothing has been delivered. (Union-Tribune)
  • The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Mexico continues to decrease. (Zeta)
  • Friendship Park may be reopened in June. (Union-Tribune)
  • Imperial County’s farmworkers have long been plagued by insufficient housing options, low wages and barriers to health care — and COVID-19 has made everything worse. (inewsource)
  • Only 48 percent of medical personnel have been vaccinated so far in Baja California. (Zeta)
  • Baja California’s government has dismantled Tijuana’s central library, sparking discontent. (Union-Tribune)
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