Immigration

Without new wall, undocumented immigrants will use the same tactics to enter the U.S.

After gang members kidnapped her younger sister and then murdered her grandparents, Lena Alemán and her husband Marbyn packed their bags and those of their five children and fled Honduras for the United States.

Upon reaching the U.S. border at Mexicali, they waited until midnight for a migrant smuggler who helped them over the boundary wall by propping a ladder on the Mexican side, then climbing to the top, and propping a second ladder down on the American side.

One by one, the family climbed the ladder to the top from Mexico and climbed down to the bottom of the second ladder in the United States. That was how they sneaked into the United States, using a method that undocumented immigrants likely will continue to employ now that it's clear the “impenetrable” border wall that President Donald Trump wants will not be built any time soon.

Two weeks ago, Congressional leaders agreed to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year in September, but did not include the money Trump needs to start building the wall he promised during the campaign.

Though Trump is likely to keep pressing Congress, and Mexico, to pay for the wall, for now undocumented immigrants will continue sneaking into the country using the many tactics they have employed for decades. These include ladders, like those used by Alemán and her family, along stretches of the border where walls or fences already exist; simply walking across the unmarked border in remote desert regions; swimming or boating across the Rio Grande; or hiding inside vehicles to evade detection at ports of entry.

Some undocumented immigrants have crossed into the United States crowded into containers hauled by tractor trailers or concealed in the trunks of cars. At least one foreign national hid in the upholstery of a seat in a van. A picture from the Border Patrol showed how the man appeared to be part of the seat's gray plastic cover.

Perhaps the most common method used in sections of the border already delineated by a wall or a guard is the ladder. That's the method Alemán and her family used.

Their odyssey began in 2015 when a gang kidnapped Alemán's younger sister, Yirley, in Honduras. The killings in January 2016 of Alemán's grandparents, also blamed on gang members, convinced the couple to flee the country with their five children.

After bus trips through Central America and Mexico, the family finally reached Mexicali, a major Mexican city across from Calexico, California.

In a recent interview, Alemán, 31, described what happened there.

A migrant smuggler the family had retained took them to a segment of the border wall separating the two cities last August.

“He placed a portable ladder on the Mexican side, and a similar one on the American side,” Alemán recalled.

Marbyn, her husband, was the first to climb up the ladder and to climb down on the other side, she said.

Their daughter, Danna, then 12, followed her dad. Then came Keidy, 10; followed by brother Josué, 5; Selvin, 2, assisted by the migrant smuggler; then Estefanni, 15 and finally Alemán, who slipped off the ladder on the American side and fell to the ground, bruising her hands.

Instead of running away from the ladder and the wall, the family sat in a group to wait.

Not long afterward, a Border Patrol vehicle approached. The family was taken to a detention center where officials released Alemán and her children. The mother and her children then made their way to Miami to reunite with relatives. Marbyn remained behind in the lock-up but eventually was released. Now the family is in asylum proceedings in Miami immigration court, she said.

Another widely used method to cross the border is on small rubber rafts made out of discarded vehicle tires.

That's how Karla Hernández and her husband Mario Alcerro, both Hondurans, did it when they crossed the border to get to Miami in 2011, one year after Alcerro had been previously deported.

A few months after Alcerro was deported in 2011, his wife Karla and their two children — both born in the United States — traveled to Honduras to be with him.

But as gang violence worsened, the couple decided to return to the United States. They boarded a plane to Mexico City and then a bus to the border across from Texas. There, they hired the small rubber raft and crossed the Rio Grande to Laredo.

They entered the United States undetected and reached Miami again. Then they sent for their U.S.-born children.

Trouble arose again in 2015 when immigration officials discovered that Alcerro was back in Miami after the previous deportation. He was arrested and removed to Honduras again.

Those who cross in remote desert areas have also been relatively successful in avoiding Border Patrol detection.

One group of eight men and one woman crossed that way at an unmarked point along the border near the Tohono O'odham Nation west of Sasabe, Arizona.

The crossing was chronicled in a 2003 series by John Lantigua of the Palm Beach Post who accompanied the migrants.

“The group, all but one from the same small town near the Guatemalan border, was led by a ‘coyote’ — a people-smuggler,” Lantigua wrote.

After leaving Mexican Sasabe, the group took about 75 minutes hiking over the hills to reach a spot at the unmarked border, Lantigua wrote.

Then, he added, the migrants knelt and prayed for 15 minutes just before sunset.

“The migrants then stood up and entered the United States, the first steps toward finding jobs to support themselves and their loved ones, jobs that do not exist in Mexico,” wrote Lantigua.

The group made it undetected all the way to Phoenix after walking through the desert for days.

Over the years, other traditional ways of crossing the border have included swimming across the Rio Grande, walking across the border in tunnels that drug traffickers also use or cutting holes in border fences.

These methods likely will remain in use for the foreseeable future, at least until Congress or Mexico funds Trump's wall, which during the campaign he claimed would be “impenetrable.”

And critics’ response to Trump’s promise? Those trying to cross the border will simply get taller ladders.

Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter: @AlfonsoChardy

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