Friday, May 19, 2006
'Dogs have more rights'
Walking down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, a 34-hear-old Mexican native named Flor tells me she is simply grateful to have her freedom.
Four years ago, Flor says, she was lured from her home in Mexico by people who promised her free passage to the United States, legal entry, and a good job as a tailor near Los Angeles.
When she arrived, however, she was immediately enslaved in a sweat shop and forced to sew 18 hours a day, sleep in a storage room, and eat little, she tells us. She says her boss told her she could go nowhere until she paid $2,600 for her transit into the country.
"She threatened me," Flor says, sighing, thinking of her mother and children still in Mexico. "She said if I tried to escape...somebody who I loved would pay the consequences."
This modern slave trade -- "human trafficking," as it is called -- is considered the third largest criminal industry in the world; behind only drugs and gun running.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates 18,000 people a year are brought into America this way -- half for the sex trade, half to work in homes, on farms, on construction sites, and in restaurants and factories. Federal officials say they are in communities everywhere.
Flor was lucky. After one-and-a-half months, she escaped captivity, she says, and after much adjustment became convinced that U.S. authorities would sympathize with her plight and help her.
She is now living here under a special visa developed for the victims of trafficking. She's trying to bring her children in too. But she says she is haunted by something her trafficker told her.
"She said, 'Dogs have more rights in this country than we had,'" Flor tells me.
"What did you think?" I ask.
"In some ways," Flor murmurs, "She was saying the truth."
What do you think?
For illegal immigrants: Don't ask, don't tell
If you're in this country illegally, and you want to do the right thing by applying for legal status, here's some advice from an immigration lawyer: Don't; don't ask the government for legal status; don't tell them you're here.
That's from Jose Hernandez, an immigration lawyer, who says he often tells illegal immigrants, "There is nothing I can do for you. Do not even look for answers. There's nothing that can be done for you."
The story we've been reporting for "360°" is a sad one. It started 17 years ago, when a 14-year-old Mexican girl named Maria Christina Garcia ran away from home. She tells me she was running from an abusive father.
Garcia crossed the border into California in the back seat of a friend's car at San Ysidro. She found work at a Taco Bell, and later a Target, and then at a large hospital. She gave birth to two sons -- both American citizens, now enrolled in good public schools in Orange County -- and kept a tidy apartment in a nice neighborhood.
But she made one very big mistake: She believed a storefront immigration consultant could help her get legal status. She paid this consultant $8,000.
Prosecutors now say the whole thing was a fraud, a nasty fraud, because in addition to taking her money, the immigration consultants told the U.S. government all about Maria Christina. She's about to be deported. The government told her she has just over a month left in this country.
She was the victim of an immigration fraud scam so common that her current lawyer rolls his eyes when he describes it. "What they tell them is: 'In 90 days, I can get you a work authorization, and within about a year, year-and-a-half, you will be able to get your green card.'"
As Hernandez tells it, the immigration consultant first applies for asylum in Maria's name. That application is quickly denied, because illegal immigrants from Mexico are generally not eligible for asylum.
The case is then turned over to an immigration court, which begins deportation proceedings. Because that sometimes takes a long time, and because the U.S. government believes in due process, an immigrant in deportation proceedings can be eligible for a temporary work permit.
This is what Maria got, and immigrants fight for these permits because they can use them, legally, to get a drivers license and a valid Social Security card.
At that point, says Hernandez, "Most of these immigrants think, 'We're on the right path. We're actually getting what we were promised.' Little do they know that in about a year and a half, they're actually going to be removed."
Maria's time is almost up. She's due to be deported in June, and it is very hard to get the government to change its mind about a deportation.
She's an emotional wreck. She has two American-born sons who are citizens. She is expecting a third child in July. She has health insurance and a doctor in California, and has neither in Mexico, where she will likely give birth.
She's thinking of leaving her children in California - their father lives here. They are well aware of what's going on -- her older son, 11-year-old Ivan, often refuses to go to school. He thinks the police might be coming for his mother, and he wants to be home to protect her.
"It may not be fair, but unfortunately, that's the law," said Jorge Guzman, who fights immigration fraud at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
What happened to the people who allegedly defrauded Maria? Not much. The operators of La Guadalupana Immigration Services in Santa Ana, California, were charged with numerous counts of business fraud in state court in California, but the operators have disappeared. Authorities believe they left the country after ripping off 2,000 or more illegal immigrants.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Border crossers try 'gopher holes,' boogie boards
We are broadcasting again tonight from the U.S.-Mexican border. Last night, we were at the spot where the border fence hits the Pacific Ocean.
U.S. Border Patrol agents tell us illegal immigrants sometimes try to swim around the fence, or surf around it, or boogie board around it -- just about every possible way you can imagine has been attempted.
As dusk fell last night, a group of Mexicans gathered on the other side of the fence, watching us broadcast, with the bright lights of San Diego shining on the horizon. Perhaps they were just curious, out for an evening stroll. Or perhaps it was something else that drew them to the fence.
We've been returning to the border a lot these last few months, and every time we go, we learn something new about the difficult situation down here.
It's easy for some people to criticize the Border Patrol, but the truth is, they work extremely hard at a somewhat thankless job. No matter how many illegal immigrants they catch and return, others get through, sometimes the same ones they just sent back over the border.
Most Border Patrol agents say they don't focus on that too much, otherwise they would feel like they are not making any progress.
For all the talk of fencing, border security as it exists right now really boils down to these agents, riding in SUVs, on horseback, ATVs, watching with cameras, night-vision equipment, around-the-clock, day-after-day.
Within the last several days, they've discovered two more tunnels underneath the border. "Gopher holes," they call them, because they are not particularly sophisticated tunnels.
We were here several months ago when they discovered "el grande" tunnel -- the 2,400 foot tunnel from a warehouse in Tijuana to a warehouse on the U.S. side. They've blocked that tunnel off now, but the memory of it remains.
To be inside that tunnel was fascinating. We saw the ropes that were used to carry bales of drugs. Examining the walls, we spotted markings made by the diggers.
The big tunnels cost so much to make its doubtful they are used by illegal immigrants, since that wouldn't be cost-effective. Instead, they are typically used to smuggle drugs, according to law enforcement officials. In fact, they found a large amount of marijuana in the 2,400 foot tunnel.
Tonight on the program, we are going to take an in-depth look at the problem of trafficking across the border -- sometimes the "product" being trafficked is drugs or sex; sometimes it is children. We'll also take a closer look at President Bush's visit to the border today.
Speaking of which, I'm curious to hear your thoughts about the immigration debate as it's playing out in Washington, D.C.
Are lawmakers moving in the right direction? Is comprehensive immigration reform possible, all at once? Or do you think they should focus on border security first, and then consider what to do with the illegal immigrants who are already here, hiding in plain sight?
34 children, 110 grandchildren, but very much alone
They live among neighbors who want them out of town. For Marvin Wyler and his two wives in the Fundamentalist Mormon polygamist enclave of Colorado City, Arizona, it is a nerve-wracking and depressing time.
You see, Marvin and his wives are some of the few people in Colorado City who no longer consider FBI fugitive Warren Jeffs a prophet. Although they used to follow him, they now consider Jeffs a fraud. This declaration has come at a cost.
Marvin, his wife Charlette, his other wife Laurie, and a late wife Esther have 34 children, and at least 110 grandchildren. But 10 of those children and a good number of the grandchildren are now out of their lives.
Warren Jeffs issued an edict declaring children should no longer talk with parents who are not loyal to the church. So nearly one-third of the Wyler children have completely cut off communication with their parents.
Marvin and Charlette tell me they occasionally run into one of these 10 children in this small town, and the children treat them like they are strangers.
We spent an evening with the Wylers. Three of the kids still live at home; two grandchildren were out jumping on a trampoline.
It seemed tranquil, but life here is now very worrisome for this family. Their house has been vandalized and church elders have told them to leave town.
But Marvin Wyler says he can't afford to leave, and besides, this is his home. His estranged children are still here and he has dreams of them coming back to their family.
So he'll wait it out, fearful of violence in Colorado City if and when Warren Jeffs is caught, but more fearful that he'll never have his children back because of beliefs that he helped them acquire.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Waiting in South Dakota for the end of the world
Where in the world is Pringle, South Dakota? It's what we asked ourselves as we came out here to report on yet another polygamist compound.
Right here in Pringle, with Mt. Rushmore as a backdrop, we found another one of the "chosen places," a "Zion," where followers of Warren Jeffs are told they must be to attain salvation when the world ends. To his followers, Jeffs is a prophet. But to the FBI, he's a wanted polygamist and pedophile.
The town's residents tell us they're certain Jeffs has been in Pringle. That's why we're here. What we've seen is a polygamist village in the making.
As in Eldorado, Texas, another Jeffs stronghold we visited recently, his followers hide from us. But we were able to get within a stone's throw of his newest Zion, or at least the newest compound we know about. There could be as many as four others, and maybe more, scattered across the United States.
As we arrive, we see backhoes, heavy equipment, silos, a water pump, trailers. Nestled among them are three-story residences for men, women and children. Some residents of Pringle fear another Waco or Jonestown scenario. Local authorities seem confused by the presence of Jeffs' followers in their midst. Why here?
Tonight, we'll take you along for a ride to the polygamist compound and show you what makes these 100 remote acres amid the Black Hills of South Dakota the perfect setting for the fulfillment of Warren Jeffs' frightening prophecies about the end of the world.
'Alligators like easy prey'
Quick! Gator sighting. Get over to this address. A trapper is about to catch one.
That was the word from CNN's assignment desk. The timing was right on. No sooner did we make our way to the back of a lakefront Florida home, than we heard veteran gator hunter Todd Hardwick yell, "Gator up!"
The gator had been sitting at the bottom of the lake for about an hour, evidently hoping that the guy who'd been circling the lake's perimeter would go away.
When the nine footer came up for air, Hardwick's hook landed him and he reeled in the 200-300 pounder. Hardwick sat on the gator's back and taped its snout, while I held a "catch pole."
With three women fatally attacked in the span of a week in Florida (only 20 such attacks have been recorded in nearly 60 years in Florida), Floridians have been calling trappers around the clock to capture gators.
The trappers have a priority list. The longest ones and those who are spotted on land go first. Then the smaller and more remote ones follow.
There's no charge to call a trapper. They're given permits and processors pay them by the foot for what they catch -- from as much as $55-60 per foot to as little as $15 per foot when they're plentiful.
When the gators are killed, nothing is wasted, Hardwick says. The meat, the hide, even the skull are sold.
In case you're wondering what to do if you ever come across a gator, Hardwick says you should ignore the common suggestion to run in a zig-zag pattern. He says it's just an old wives tale. You can try running straight away, but gators are very quick over short distances.
What you can do, if attacked, is "fight for your life," Hardwick says. Punch, kick, gouge out its eyes, and you might get it to back off. "Alligators like easy prey."
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Da Vinci Code character appears in flesh and blood
How would you feel if the author of a fiction book that's sold more than 40 million copies included you in it as a character, using your real name and job description, but never told you about it?
That's what happened to Maurizio Seracini, the only non-fictional character appearing in The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's runaway bestseller about a fictional conspiracy to hide the "truth" about Jesus -- that he was married to Mary Magdalene and had a child.
In the book, clues about this conspiracy, which is supposedly perpetrated by the Catholic Church, emerge through the art of Leonardo da Vinci. The movie version of Brown's story premiers this week at the Cannes Film Festival.
When I met with Seracini in his breathtaking office just across from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, I thought he was joking at first. "You never met, spoke or e-mailed Dan Brown?" I asked. "Never had the pleasure," he replied.
In The Da Vinci Code, Brown describes Seracini as an "art diagnostician." With a title like that, I thought, you can't be a real
person, or in any case that's not a real
job. But Seracini's work not only exists, it's actually very important.
His office looks like a state-of-the-art laboratory, with machines you would normally find in a hospital. He uses them to study the origins of works of art, analysing the composition of the materials -- e.g. the wood, the paint, the wax, the canvass -- to establish how old they are and to advise curators and art galleries on how best to preserve them.
Seracini can certify scientifically whether a certain work of art was actually produced by Leonardo da Vinci or an impostor.
"How do you do that?" I asked. "It's simple," he replied with a broad smile. "I look for his fingerprints."
No wonder Dan Brown chose him as one of his characters. (By the way, if you have the book on hand, you can find Seracini in chapter 40).
U.S. border town fears influx of troops
When news emerged of President Bush's plan to use thousands of National Guard troops to secure the U.S. border with Mexico, my thoughts turned to Redford, Texas, a tiny town of about 100 residents along the Rio Grande. Nine years ago, this far-flung border town changed the way the United States protects its borders.
On May 20, 1997, Esequiel Hernandez Jr., 18, was herding his goats just a few hundred yards from his Redford home. He was carrying an antique rifle, a little firepower to protect his goats from coyotes.
What happened that day has been disputed by Hernandez's family, the U.S. Marines and the Border Patrol, but what is known is that four Marines were helping local authorities track drug runners.
The Marines were hiding in the low-lying brush in camouflage. They say Hernandez fired at them first, so they started tracking him through the rugged terrain, thinking he was a drug smuggler. Everyone agrees they were nearly 200 yards away. At that distance, says Margarito Hernandez, Esequiel's brother, he could not have known what he was shooting at, if he did shoot first.
A short time later, Hernandez was shot and killed by one of the Marines. The shooting sparked such intense controversy that the special task force of U.S. troops helping fight drug smugglers was pulled out of the border region. The Marines were cleared of wrongdoing, but the federal government paid the family almost $2 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
Today, a humble white cross sits on the hilltop marking the spot where Hernandez was shot and killed. His family still lives in Redford. The idea of bringing the military back to the border has them nervous.
"Somebody else is going to get hurt. Some other parents are going to suffer the loss of a loved one," said Margarito Hernandez, as he walked me along the final path his brother took the day he was killed. "It's important for them to remember what happened to my brother."
Many residents of this border town repeated a common theme to us -- basically, "border culture" and "military culture" just don't mix. They say National Guard troops won't be trained well enough to understand the idiosyncrasies of border life. What do they mean by idiosyncrasies?
For the people who live here, there really isn't much of a border. Many families have loved ones on both sides of the border; the people look the same on both sides; they speak the same way; and they share the same culture. Residents here worry soldiers won't be able to tell the difference between who's breaking the law, and who's not.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Oregon sheriff to Mexico: You owe us $300,000
It's Monday, and I'm on my way to the small town of Pendleton, Oregon, to interview a sheriff who, like a lot of Americans, is fed up with what he considers this country's broken borders.
In fact, he's so frustrated that he has sent a letter to Mexican President Vicente Fox demanding that the Mexican government cough up more than $300,000 for the jailing of illegal immigrants in Umatilla Country, Oregon.
This country has seen its Latino population soar in recent years. That has meant an increase in illegal immigrants taking up jail space, according to Umatilla County Sheriff John Trumbo. And Trumbo thinks the Mexican government should pay.
I've never really thought of Oregon as the type of place to draw a lot of illegal immigrants, but because of its large farms and agriculture industry, it does.
For tonight's show, we'll talk to Trumbo about his novel approach to the immigration issue and ask him what, if anything, he's heard from President Fox.
The sheriff's actions aren't going to endear him to the Latino population. According to the Los Angeles Times, many of the county's citizens are infuriated with him. We'll talk to some of them as well.
What do you think? Should the Mexican government help cover the costs of jailing illegal immigrants?
Poll: Clinton more honest than Bush
How bad has it gotten for President Bush? Bad enough that in the eyes of many Americans his predecessor, President Clinton, is looking better.
Our CNN poll, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, asked people to compare the last two Presidents.
Which President do people think did a better job on the economy? The public picked Clinton by a mile -- 63 to 26 percent. For many Americans, the 1990s were boom years. "When he was President," a woman told us, "My business did well and I made a lot of money. I kind of miss that."
Who related better to problems affecting ordinary Americans? No contest -- Clinton over Bush, 62 to 25 percent. Clinton felt your pain. Clinton also raised taxes. Bush cut taxes. Who wins on that one? Surprise! Clinton, 51 to 35 percent on taxes.
After 9/11, national security became Bush's strongest issue. And now? People think Clinton was better on national security by a nose -- 46 to 42 percent. What happened? One word: Iraq.
Now for a tough test -- character. The character issue was crucial for Bush, who campaigned in 2000 on this promise: "When I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear not only to uphold the laws of the land, I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected."
So which President do Americans now consider more honest and trustworthy -- the man who said, "I misled people, including even my wife," or the man who said, "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it and we'll take the appropriate action"? A close call, but slightly more people say Clinton -- 46 to 41 percent. That's right, by a narrow margin, the American public now considers Bill Clinton more honest than George W. Bush.
Could Clinton nostalgia be setting in? Many respondents said yes, citing the former president's "agenda for peace" and "more social programs for those in need." Others talked about the "Clinton nightmare," like the man who called Clinton a "womanizing, Elvis-loving, non-inhaling, truth-shading, abortion-protecting, gay-promoting, war-protesting, gun-hating baby boomer."
Clinton divided the country politically. So did Bush. Who do people think divided it more? The answer is Bush, by a big margin -- 59 to 27 percent. The public sees President Bush the same way they once saw President Clinton -- as a divider, not a uniter.