I was with a man named Almaraz Reveles Gonzalo as U.S. immigration agents literally handed him to Mexican immigration agents at the border fence where San Ysidro, California, meets Tijuana, Mexico.
Gonzalo is accused of being an illegal immigrant. But unlike other illegals who are brought back to Mexico, and then quickly try again to come back to the United States, its unlikely we'll soon see Mr. Gonzalo back here. That's because back in Mexico Gonzalo is an accused murderer, and the Mexican government encouraged the United States to find him and send him back home to meet justice.
Gonzalo is one of dozens of illegal immigrants accused of violent crimes in their home countries that the Los Angeles field office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (known as ICE) have tracked down. Finding dangerous criminals who have decided to hide out here is an assignment being given a higher priority nationwide by ICE. It's not known how many such suspects are in the United States, but ICE does say it is looking for 632,000 illegal immigrants who have broke some type of law while in
the United States (usually a non-violent crime) and are considered fugitives.
Gonzalo is charged with killing his elderly uncle during a land dispute. In the pre-drawn hours, we watched California ICE agents raid the Los Angeles-area home that Gonzalo shared with his wife and children. When Gonzalo's wife opened the door, agents found Gonzalo still in bed with one of his children.
They took him away, but never told him about the murder charge. (They also told CNN that in order to observe the raid, we couldn't tell him either.) ICE says it is up to Mexican officials to inform Gonzalo of his murder charges. If U.S. officials were to tell him, it could complicate ICE's desire to kick him out of the country. After capture, Gonzalo is given a choice. He is told he can stay in jail in California or be brought back to Mexico. Going back home sounds like the better choice to him because he assumes he'll be free. But he assumes wrong.
U.S. authorities place him in the custody of Mexican authorities who prepare to fly him to his home state of Zacatecas and put him in jail. But as we walk with Mexican police to a waiting van, we notice they still haven't told him about the murder charge. They say that will happen before Gonzalo gets on the plane. But because we're no longer operating under our "agreed to" ICE guidelines, I break the news to Gonzalo.
"They say you killed your uncle," I say to him. "Did you?"
"No," he replies, not looking surprised at the question.
I ask him again. One more time, a nonchalant, "No."
And then he is loaded up in the van and gone. His wife and children remain in California, but Almaraz Reveles Gonzalo's quick goodbye to them just hours earlier might have been the last time he sees them as a free man.
-- By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent