SPECIAL REPORT | Thousands of undocumented immigrants take dangerous path to Kentuckiana
Undocumented immigrants are making their way to Kentucky by the thousands. They illegally cross the Mexico border into the U.S., navigating the Rio Grande that separates the two countries.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Undocumented immigrants are making their way to Kentucky by the thousands. They illegally cross the Mexico border into the U.S., navigating the Rio Grande that separates the two countries.
On a bluff, you can see the Mexican flag and the bridge that takes you into Roma, Texas. The border town is about 1,400 miles from Louisville and a hot bed for border crossings.
People make their way across the river, ditch their clothing, their raft and life vests.
"If you don't get to the next level and arrest people, they're going to steal more cars and move people," Air and Marine Operations Pilot Clint Thompson said. "There are 3,000 agents, including a Kentucky native, protecting the border in the Rio Grande area.
Christopher Kirkvicini, who was born and raised in Harlan County, Kentucky, helped catch two undocumented men who spent eight days to get into the U.S.
He has a message for Kentuckiana residents.
"I would like them to know there's a lot of people out here and time given up by men and women in green that patrol the borders," Kirkvicini said. "Let it be known there is a real good reason we are down here."
Many of the estimated 50,000 undocumented immigrants now in Kentucky traveled through the Texas border, others from Arizona. As people make their way north, there's another checkpoint.
The Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas, is about 80 miles from the border. It's ranked No. 1 for undocumented aliens and No. 2 for marijuana seizures. Every truck and car is stopped.
"Agents are checking for undocumented illegal aliens and contraband coming to the United States," said Acting Watch Commander for the Border Patrol, Neftali Ramos, who added that K-9s are trained to find humans and drugs.
"These agents have seconds to make an illegal determination."
Mirrors line the ceilings because people will often hide on semi trucks without the driver knowing
"You can find humans concealed in unimaginable places: in trunks, inside seats, concealed with lining of the seats, in 18 wheelers with cargo," Ramos said.
Human smugglers will often drop immigrants off miles before and make them walk around this checkpoint. That'll take you to the desert.
"We know the conditions are hard out here.," said Hugo Vega, a Border Patrol Operations Officer. "They are walking for days with no water, no food."
People will use the power lines as a map to go north. But in the middle of the desert, you'll find rescue beacons with water jugs. The signs are in English, Spanish and Chinese, as several Chinese immigrants also enter the US. illegally through Mexico.
"Unfortunately, this is vast terrain, and we only have limited resources to cover," Ramos said. "There are many trails that are being used by alien smugglers where we do find subjects who have succumb to the weather."
"The price for crossing illegally shouldn't be death," Vega said.
At the top of the beacons, a blue light flashes at night and can be seen for miles. The rescue beacons are portable. If there's a need in another location they can be moved.
But Border Patrol admits that people aren't using them enough. In addition to catching illegal immigrants and drugs, agents also become rescuers. WDRB News was there as they saved two drowning men in the Rio Grande who were swimming, not trying to enter the U.S.
People clapped as Border Patrol returned the men to the Mexican side.
"I can't tell you how many times I've flown people to the hospital, and they couldn't take one more step and they'd collapse," Thompson said.
Those who don't get caught make their way to communities across the country. Danny Alvarez, an attorney in Louisville, represents some families who have been in the Louisville area for decades, had children and pay taxes.
"I think there are a lot of undocumented here ... lots of immigrants here," he said.
"Most of the time, the folks that are here in Kentucky are getting stopped for driving without a license," said Alvarez, who's pushing for the creation of driving certificates so they can legally drive.
At the Boone County Jail in northern Kentucky that houses federal inmates, you'll find many behind bars on immigration charges. Court records show about 30 federal indictments for immigration violations in the last two years for the Western District of Kentucky. That doesn't include people arrested for other crimes but were also undocumented.
"Criminals that are here committing crimes that are posing a danger, those folks need to be taken off the streets," Alvarez said. "And if they are not here documented, they need to be sent back to their countries. I don't think there's anyone in disagreement with that."
Local deportation cases are actually handled in Chicago and Memphis, Tennessee. Alvarez says voluntary deportations can take 30 days, but if you fight it, it could take years. He says when people from our area are deported, they are often bused from Chicago to the Mexico border, where they walk back across the bridge.
Kirkvicini and other agents say while they hear sad stories of why people want to come to the U.S., they need to do it legally.
"Being a part of an organization that can combat illegal immigration and illegal narcotics from entering our country, that was one of main reasons for joining the Border Patrol," Kirkvicini said.
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