Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Encore Presentation: 24 Hours On The Border

Aired May 13, 2006 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(NEWS BREAK)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The battle on the border, around the clock and all the angles. A special edition of 360, "24 Hours on the border."

ANNOUNCER: Wide open land at the border and these guys say they're the only ones stopping illegals from crossing through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a great day to be a vigilante.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, their controversial plan, building a wall to keep illegals out.

Catch and return. An ambitious effort to send illegal immigrants back. What really happens to those who are caught trying to enter the U.S.?

And could this town be America's welcome mat for terrorists? It's on the border. We'll take you there. Across the country and around the world, this is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "24 Hours on the Border." Here's Anderson Cooper.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Welcome to this special edition of 360. We come to you tonight from Smuggler's Gulch, just south of San Diego right on the U.S./Mexico border. But tonight, a special broadcast of 360. All the angles from many different parts of the border. We want to show you what it is like here around the clock, "24 Hours on the Border. We begin in the middle of the night. Midnight strikes and a new day has begun. While most Americans are in bed or preparing to go to sleep, members of the tactical unit are wide-eyed and on the hunt, looking for people to trying to cross the border illegally. CNN's Rusty Dornin is there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like they might be heading the same area -- for the same area...

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just past midnight, Border Patrol Agent Russell Church examines the dirt road less than a mile from the border near Sasabe, Arizona, checking for telltale footprints on top of the Border Patrol's tire tracks. They call it cutting sign.

RUSSELL CHURCH, BORTAC TEAM LEADER: That we'll see a specific footprint or say that one that stands out real well, there's a huge circle in the heel. We'll tell the units up ahead, you know, be sure and look for that.

DORNIN: Church thinks the tracks are about three hours old. With foot travel in this area at about three miles an hour, they might be nine miles from here by now. Minutes later, other agents radio in they've seen a group of about 30 heading north.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like they're going to be about 1.2 miles in on -- on at six.

DORNIN: It's at least six miles from where we are over winding and rutted dirt roads. But Agent Church is hardly working in the dark. He's part of a tactical operations unit called BORTAC, sort of the special forces of the Border Patrol. As part of the latest push on the border for seven-week tours, 40 BORTAC agents live in trailers out here in this desolate, but spectacular wildlife refuge known as Buenos Aires. Here because it's so remote, it's favored by smugglers, criminals who move drugs or people. Agent Church is team leader for the busy midnight to dawn shift. Nine men to patrol 36 square miles of desert.

CHURCH: I know this group is pretty far north, but if you see something, of course, call it out.

DORNIN: A game of moonlight cat and mouse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guido (ph) 117...

DORNIN: 2:54 a.m. It's often pitch black out here. And with their night eyes, perfect for the agents, who tonight are using experimental infrared displays. From their SUVs, they can see images that look like daylight from a plane looking down at the dark desert. Those small black dots are people scattering in the dark. But they are too far away for Church's unit to catch. Another border unit will try to pick them up.

(On camera): Three hours after that first group of 30 was spotted, agents believe they have split up into four different groups. Now they've called in a helicopter, and two agents are on the ground trying to flush them out of the brush and infrared scopes are trying to spot them in the gullies.

(Voice-over): In the infrared imagery, the agents look like alien beings, their body heat glowing a bright white. A helicopter with a powerful search light hunts another 20 minutes. But agents here believe the group has stopped running, gone to brush, as they say, hiding in dense undergrowth.

(On camera): I mean, it's really a cat and mouse game. You've got all these high-tech tools, but you can't always get them, right?

ROBERT LINDEMANN, BORTAC OPERATIONS OFFICER: Right. I mean, although we have the high-tech gadgets and such, it still takes the individual agents to get down into the canyons, and the canyons are very hard to get into.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 20 men or so... DORNIN (voice-over): As hints of the dawn appear, it's 4:59. We learn of another group on the move. But this group also proves to be elusive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got the side across from inside, so they're obviously further north.

DORNIN: As the sun rises, so does the frustration.

CHURCH: Very frustrating. It happen a lot. More times than we'd like to admit. We're so close to them, and we're just not there in the right time -- at the right time and the right place.

DORNIN: Later that morning miles away, two of the BORTAC agents flushed out 24 illegal immigrants they had been tracking overnight. Those who escaped? In broad daylight, they will struggle to evade capture by other Border Patrol units, continuing north, hoping to find someplace in the United States where they can disappear.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Sasabe, Arizona.

COOPER: By midmorning along the border, sun is already high in the sky, and the temperatures are scorching. When you're out here in the desert, you realize just how difficult it is for illegal immigrants to cross into the United States. It's easy to lose your way. You find water bottles all around the desert, left behind by illegal immigrants. Oftentimes they don't bring enough water with them because they think the journey isn't as tough as it's going to be. Hundreds of illegal immigrants die every year trying to cross over.

CNN's Dan Simon reports now on those whose job it is to identify the dead.

DR. BRUCE ANDERSON, FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGIST: This is another individual presumed to be an undocumented border crosser.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Dr. Bruce Anderson is trying to identify the dead and reconnect them with their families.

ANDERSON: Most shouldn't be dead, but they are.

SIMON: Anderson is not a psychic medium. He has to rely on science to speak for the dead. Each body is a mystery.

ANDERSON: I look at this way, I'm trying to do whatever I can to generate a lead so we don't have to bury this person as an unknown.

SIMON: Anderson is a forensic anthropologist. His job, to identify the remains of illegal immigrants who had crossed from Mexico into Arizona and died in the desert.

ANDERSON: And there are a lot of sad stories associated with these migrants crossing. There's a lot of young, healthy people. Most are young. Most are healthy. SIMON: But their bodies don't offer a lot of clues. Many carry IDs, but they're often fake. Their personal belongings are usually of little value. And the bodies themselves, often by the time they're found, they're so badly decomposed there's no way to determine who they were.

ANDERSON: This has become our regular caseload. It didn't used to be this way.

SIMON: But this is the way it is now in Pima County, Arizona, where more illegal immigrants die crossing the border each year than anywhere else in the country.

Last year, 198 people found dead here, more than a third of all U.S. border crossing deaths.

(On camera): Is it fair to say your office has never been busier?

DR. BRUCE PARKS, PIMA COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER: Yes, that's true.

SIMON (voice over): Dr. Bruce Parks is Pima County's medical examiner. He's responsible for determining the cause of death. Mainly heat stroke. Sixty-eight people died last July.

(On camera): Sixty-eight people in one month?

PARKS: Yes.

SIMON: That's mind-boggling.

PARKS: It is. It is. We couldn't believe it. It was a very, very warm month, however, and that seems to happen, that the death rate goes up when we have -- when the weather is worse than normal.

SIMON: Dr. Parks' office was overwhelmed. So many bodies that it had to plant refrigeration trucks outside its building. That's in addition to the cold storage already inside. And it still needs the trucks.

(On camera): Here in Tucson, Parks and Anderson say they manage to identify about three quarters of the bodies they get. But that still leaves dozens without a name or an identity or a family. Some victims go unclaimed for months, or maybe even forever.

ANDERSON: From 2005, there are probably between 30 and 40 individuals that we do not have name associations for right now.

SIMON (voice over): Including these remains. But Anderson thinks he may have developed a lead. A Mexican who thinks he lost his brother tracked down Anderson and e-mailed him, wondering if his brother was found, saying he had several false teeth.

ANDERSON: And I told him this morning I would send him some photographs of three men who had partial dentures or dentures on dentures on the upper teeth, just in case the family -- he or some other family member might recognize the denture.

SIMON: The photos will be close-up shots of the dentures. Anderson wants to spare the family from seeing anything more graphic. Finding a match yields mixed emotions.

ANDERSON: And you can feel very good about yourself, but then you realize that you make the phone call to the next of kin, you're giving them the worst possible news they could ever hear. So you have to temper your enthusiasm and your satisfaction with doing a good job.

SIMON: As for those who never get a match, well, they're brought here to the county cemetery, with a simple mark identifying them as Jane or John Doe. American soil, their final resting place.

Dan Simon, CNN, Tucson, Arizona.

COOPER: Many of those who are lucky enough to survive don't get very far. They get apprehended by the Border Patrol, but they keep trying to come back.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is this the first time you've tried to come to the United States?

MARLON VARGAS, UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT: No.

SANCHEZ: No? How many times?

VARGAS: Seven.

SANCHEZ: Seven times.

COOPER: Coming up, illegal immigrants won't give up, but the U.S. is working harder to catch them and send them home. We'll give you a rare inside look at the trip back.

Plus, Americans taking matters into their own hands. We'll show you how far some are going to keep illegals out. All that and more as our 360 special, "24 Hours on the Border," continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to "24 Hours on the Border." This is a cell where illegal immigrants would be kept for several hours while they're being processed before they're returned home. It's pretty basic. A sink, a toilet, a bench. They'll bring in a mattress if they're going to be here overnight. But increasingly the U.S. wants to send them back as quickly as possible.

CNN's Rick Sanchez recently got a look at some illegal immigrants who are being sent back by plane.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Shackles scrape against the tarmac at Williams International Airport in Mesa, Arizona. These are the first close-up images of the U.S. government's new initiative to get rid of undocumented immigrants not within months or years anymore, but rather, within days. From this airport alone, three full flights now leave each week bound for Central America.

(On camera): It's now 7:30 in the morning. We're about a half hour from wheels up on this MD83 that's going to literally remove 110 immigrants from the United States.

(Voice-over): The expedited removal program began last September, but because there are so many undocumented immigrants, the number of flights not just from here in Arizona, but nationally, have already been increased to 12 a week. On board, one of the men who handles the new program for the Bush administration.

GARY MEADE, ICE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: It's our hope that these people, when they get back, will explain that there is no safe haven anymore, that when people are apprehended, they are processed quickly and they're returned quickly.

SANCHEZ: But is the message getting through? On board we find immigrants separated by two classifications -- criminal aliens whose crimes range from heroin smuggling, murder and petty offenses, to those whose only crime is being in the country illegally.

An hour into the flight we find Marlin Vargas a 23-year-old with a boyish grin who says he came to the U.S. because he was hungry.

(On camera): Is this the first time you tried to come to the United States?

MARLON VARGAS, UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT: No.

SANCHEZ: No? How many times?

VARGAS: Seven times.

SANCHEZ: Seven times?

(Voice-over): Then there's Jose Membrero (ph), a criminal alien who admits to a rap sheet that dates back to 1991, with crimes that include selling drugs, domestic violence, parole violations, and finally a DUI arrest that's now getting him deported. Although not a citizen, Membrero (ph) was in the U.S. legally. He's lived in Colorado for 19 years and speaks English with hardly a trace of a Spanish accent.

(On camera): You feel like you blew it?

JOSE MEMBRERO (ph), IMMIGRANT: Yes.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): It's now about noon. And the flight dubbed Con-Air, is maneuvering the tricky approach through the mountains into the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

Once on the ground, their welcomed by Honduran immigration officials, using the plane's P.A. to tell them they're happy to have them back.

At the refugee return and welcome center, Membrero (ph) -- remember he's the one with the long rap sheet -- clears immigration and Interpol almost immediately.

However, Marlon Vargas has a problem. Honduran officials spot his tattoos and question him about gang activity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: MS-13 is a very dangerous gang.

SANCHEZ: Here as well, says the police official, who decides Vargas' tattoo is not a gang logo after all. He is free to go, as is Membrero (ph), who tells us he won't return to the U.S. because now, as a deported ex-con, he would face a federal sentence of 20 years if caught. However, Honduras is a country he hardly knows.

MEMBRERO (ph): I'm lost.

SANCHEZ (on camera): You're lost?

MEMBRERO (ph): Yes, I'm lost.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Vargas knows where he's going. It's now 3:00 p.m., and we follow him back to his village, a two-hour ride through the Honduran countryside. Santa Rosa is poor, but the greeting he gets from his mom is rich.

One look inside Vargas' home and you immediately understand why half the boys here have left for America, leaving behind fathers like Vargas' dad.

(On camera): Does it bother you when he leaves?

(Voice-over): I need him, says Tomas Vargas, who tells me he only makes $3 a day, shows me his empty cupboards, the holes in his roof and his next meal, and every meal -- beans and corn.

(On camera): To say that life is hard here in Santa Rosa would be an understatement. For running water, for example, you have to go outside. That's if it works.

(Voice-over): Like this squeaky faucet, everyone seems to agree, U.S. immigration policy is in disrepair. Will this newest initiative fix it? That's up to Marlon Vargas and tens of thousands like him.

(On camera): If it was easier to get in, would you go back?

VARGAS: Probably.

SANCHEZ: Yes?

VARGAS: Yes.

SANCHEZ: But they're making it harder now?

VARGAS: It's harder now.

SANCHEZ: Vargas plans instead, to join the Honduran military. But his is just one story, a snapshot of one family, one village, where America's immigration dilemma begins. Rick Sanchez, CNN, Santa Rosa, Honduras.

COOPER (voice-over): The growing problem of cross-border violence, when "24 Hours on the Border" continues.

And some Americans think they have the answer to our illegal immigration problem, and they're taking matters into their own hands. How far they'll go to keep illegals out.

And if you think this border is porous, you should see the Canadian one.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm going to hold you up my passport first. Can you see it?

OFFICER JOHNSON, BORDER AGENT: OK.

TUCHMAN: That's me.

COOPER: You call that security? We'll take you to one of the least guarded spots on the border when this special edition of 360, "24 Hours on the Border," continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER (on camera): Welcome back to "24 Hours on the Border." This is Smuggler's Gulch. It's several miles south of San Diego. It used to be one of the most active crossing points. In fact, back in the 1920s, during prohibition, smugglers used to bring alcohol across the border here. Now, of course, it's primarily people.

They still get about 40 -- they arrest about 40 illegal immigrants every day in this area. At some point they plan to just fill in this entire area with dirt and build two layers of fence to really be able to stop people. Anybody can just jump right over here.

Recently, we heard about some Americans who aren't waiting for the government to finish building a bigger fence here. They say they're going to do it themselves.

TIM DONNELLY (ph), MINUTEMEN VOLUNTEER: Who's coming to a neighborhood near you?

COOPER (voice-over): Saturday morning in a southern California trailer park, Tim Donnelly (ph) addresses a group of Minutemen volunteers.

DONNELLY (ph) It's a great day to be a vigilante.

COOPER: Vigilantes is what their critics and President Bush have called them, but the Minutemen say they are merely being vigilant, patrolling the border, alerting authorities when they spot illegal immigrants crossing over.

DONNELLY (ph): The vigilante word for us is now a badge of honor. Because we know we're not vigilantes. We don't operate outside the law. But we are filling a gap.

COOPER: Today, however, the Minutemen are stepping up their actions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Patriot 10, this is Patriot Two, do you copy?

COOPER: For the first time, they plan to build a fence along the border. It's a new front in their battle against illegal immigration. About 100 volunteers have shown up, and they're driving to an undisclosed location along the U.S.-Mexican border. They don't know how authorities will react when they start to build the fence.

(On camera): This part of the border where the Minutemen are working today, there is a fence, probably about 12 feet high. But the problem is, it just stops where these rocks are. Then the border is just completely open.

(Voice-over): When you see this, what do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why? Why does it stop? It wouldn't be that hard to build it across the rock.

COOPER: Armed with fence posts and barbed wire, the volunteers quickly begin construction. A Border Patrol helicopter flies overhead, but authorities make no attempt to stop the fence building.

DONNELY (ph): Well, yes, it's symbolic in a way because we want the government to see us actually building the fence. But take a look right there. It's wide open. So if there's a fence there when we leave here, then we will have left the border more secure than we found it.

COOPER: While volunteers build the fence, others prepare food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's more American than hot dogs?

COOPER: Hot dogs and apple pie. The atmosphere is festive and patriotic. There are American flags on napkins and banners, in flower pots, even on dogs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to get our country back.

COOPER: In what way?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Illegals are illegal. At least it was when I went to school.

COOPER: For many of those here, it's their first time volunteering with the Minutemen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel very passionate about the issue itself, but also, it's one of the few issues I can effect because I can't do anything about the deficit, or I can't do anything about the war in Iraq.

COOPER: You don't seem like a vigilante. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope not. I'm not. I don't think any of us do. And there's a lot of women in this organization.

COOPER: Chelsea Scavenger (ph) picks up trash left behind by illegal immigrants. She finds water bottles and booties.

CHELSEA SCAVENGER (ph), MINUTEMEN VOLUNTEER: These are booties. People who cross over put these on their feet. See, this is very nicely made. They've got the tie thing so it doesn't fall off their feet, and they leave no tracks.

COOPER (on camera): Why are they wearing booties? Why not shoes?

SCAVENGER (ph): Because then they can get their footprints more easily and Border Patrol can find them.

COOPER (voice-over): So if they're wearing booties, they don't leave footprints?

SCAVENGER (ph): Correct.

DONNELLY (ph): I'm looking around, and I see a whole lot of Americans that are willing to do the job that the American government and even the illegal aliens don't want to do.

COOPER: By the end of the day, the Minutemen have finished a makeshift fence some 150 yards long. For Tim Donnelly (ph), it's both a symbol and a start.

What do you think you accomplished today?

DONNELLY (ph): As I look down this line, I am overwhelmed with just a sense that this is an idea whose time has come. And I think we have -- probably the most significant thing we will have accomplished today is we're sending a picture to the Senate. You know? We're going to e-mail them a message that just says, here's what Americans want. Americans of all backgrounds, Americans, some of whom are legal immigrants, young and old alike, they're just Americans out here expressing themselves without using words. They're using posthole diggers, they're stringing barbed wire and they're saying, we want our border to be secured.

COOPER (on camera): Imagine getting 500 unwanted visitors at your home every day. That's what's happening to one family who lives along the border. They say it's not just an annoyance. They say their lives are sometimes being threatened. We'll take you there.

And we'll take you up north to the Canadian border where getting into the U.S. is as easy as pushing a button, when this special edition of 360 continues, "24 Hours on the Border."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to "24 Hours on the Border," a 360 special. It's just about midmorning, and ranchers all along the U.S.-Mexican border are well into their workday. They're getting their chores done and they're having to deal with illegals who are crossing on their property.

CNN's Heidi Collins meets one ranch family who says the problem for them is only getting worse.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 8:40 in the morning, the new Mexico-Mexico border. James Johnson and his father head out to survey the family business.

For five generations, this family has ranched and farmed an 18- mile stretch along the U.S.-Mexican border. The Johnsons say there have always been people crossing their land illegally from Mexico. But in the past few years, it's gotten much worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's a...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A pickup.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... pickup with about, what do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably 10 people in it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ten people.

COLLINS: It's the end of the morning rush across the Johnsons' land.

(On camera): It's now 10:45, and for the last 45 minutes, we've been looking all over the Johnsons' land for new trails, new footprints, and they are basically everywhere you look.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see individual footprints. I mean, you can see a man's footprint right here. This looks like a man's work boot. And over here is probably a man's tennis shoe.

COLLINS (voice-over): The family says at least 500 people try to cross every day. Damaging fences, destroying water supplies, and leaving trash everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if you look in, I mean, there's cans of tuna, there's bottles of water, there's actually, I think, a Pedialyte looking bottle there on the ground. This has kind of become a shelter for illegals.

COLLINS: In the past year and a half, border trespassers have caused more than $40,000 worth of damage to the Johnsons' ranch. The family's been threatened with guns and is afraid to let the children out of their sight.

Here's where it starts. This small Mexican town, Los Chapis (ph), has become a staging area for illegal crossings. It's just a stone's throw from the ranch. The once thriving village, now dilapidated, full of guns and drug dealers.

The Johnsons can give you the play by play. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He'll go down and he'll basically unload at the little store. A lot of people will go inside the store and get water bottles and burritos and things like that though. And then these people will -- they'll find their way basically from there to find their guide for the night.

COLLINS: From there, pickup trucks take them high into the hills where a coyote, or a human smuggler, will guide them down and across the Johnsons' land into the United States.

Last summer, the human rush hour got to a point where New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson declared a state of emergency. In response, the Mexican government tore down a cluster of the abandoned buildings, hoping to take away some shelter for the illegal crossers.

But here on Johnson's ranch, things only got worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they are more bolder, and I think there's more of them.

COLLINS: The stakes for the game of hide and seek here only went up. The coyotes found new routes and new hiding places. The Border Patrol is adding 250 new agents. With better surveillance, infrared cameras and eyes in the sky, they're saying, you can run, but you can't hide.

We watch as one chopper circles and spots a target. A few minutes later, a group of illegal immigrants are brought down the hilltop. We ask, why do they take the risk? The answer? They need work.

(On camera): It's 12:40 in the afternoon, and now the next stop for these 16 people is Columbus, New Mexico, just a little ways down the road where they'll be processed. If they are, in fact, all Mexicans, they'll likely be back across the border by 5:00 o'clock tonight.

(Voice-over): As for the Johnsons, whose ranch is ground zero for this high-risk game, they fully support legal immigration. James thinks many of these problems would end with a good guest worker program.

JAMES JOHNSON, RANCHER: We feel for the Mexican people. I almost feel like these people coming across are my people, too because I've lived around them and been with them my whole life.

COLLINS: It's now dusk. Around 7:30. Another group of illegal crossers are returned back to the Mexican border. Most vow to try again. Hide and seek, the game goes on.

Heidi Collins, CNN, Columbus, New Mexico.

COOPER: Those who get to the Johnsons' ranch often take a very dangerous journey there.

Coming up, we'll take on you board what's been called the train of death. You won't believe what some people go through just for a chance to live in America.

And get a load of this...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They showed up with AK-47s, fully armed. And they said -- they yelled, "You want to play (explicative deleted)? Let's play."

COOPER: Some of the most violent thugs are trying to get across the border. We'll take you to one dangerous border town ahead, on this special edition of 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're following "24 Hours on the Border." It's now late afternoon, and we take you to the northern border with Canada, some 5500 miles long, many parts of it unprotected.

CNN's Gary Tuchman shows us one border crossing where entering the U.S., legally or not, is no trouble at all.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): It's late afternoon, rush hour in many places. But not here. On this desolate roadway in the Canadian province of Manitoba where a monument separates Manitoba on the left from Minnesota on the right, a sign warns that you're about to arrive to the official U.S. border checkpoint. And then there it is -- the Jim's Corner Immigration Customs Reporting Station. Which looks like a shack and operates on the honor system.

Two sheriffs on the American side are not happy about it.

(On camera): What percentage of people in general do you believe check in there?

DALLAS BLOCK, SHERIFF, LAKE OF THE WOODS COUNTY: I believe it's less than 30 percent. Maybe even far less than that.

TUCHMAN: When we entered Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota, from Canada, we went through the rather unorthodox process.

(On camera): Push the call, push the American flag.

Inside the shack, a videophone connected to a border agent 50 mile as way. Hello, U.S. Customs. I'm at the Jim's Corner. My name is Gary Tuchman. I think you'll find I have a clean record.

The agent looks at you through the camera, and you look at the agent. What is your name?

OFFICER JOHNSON, BORDER AGENT: Officer Johnson.

TUCHMAN: Hello, Officer Johnson.

(Voice-over): Officer Johnson would have no way of knowing if people were just driving by the shack without stopping, which indeed often happens because many honorable people can't be bothered with the videophone that often doesn't work. (On camera): I'm going to hold you up my passport first. Can you see it?

JOHNSON: Okay.

TUCHMAN: That's me.

(Voice-over): We were approved to enter the U.S. in a most unusual tourist town called Angle Inlet. It's actually an enclave not physically connected to the rest of the U.S. You have to drive 40 miles within Canada to the northern side of the Lake of the Woods to get there.

There are far more deer than people who live here. The town is the state's only remaining one-room public schoolhouse. But amid the charm of this tranquil town, the sheriff of Lake of the Woods County says drug dealers drive past Jim's Corner, and then take boats in the summer or snowmobiles in the winter into the heart of the U.S. And he says there's even more.

(On camera): It is your professional opinion that terrorists have gone through Angle Inlet into the mainland United States?

BLOCK: Yes, it is.

TUCHMAN: And that's through intelligence you have?

BLOCK: Yes. We have pretty accurate, pretty reliable intelligence that that has happened. I don't think Osama bin Laden's going to check in there, but. So you're really on your honor system.

TUCHMAN: It's 6:00 p.m. on a chilly day. So most of the boaters have gone back to shore for the evening. This lake is very empty. But even in the summer in the middle of the day, it is very uncrowded on this lake, which makes it easy for people who might be up to no good to go relatively unnoticed.

(Voice-over): Some of the year-round residents are concerned all this talk could scare away tourists. Jerry Stallock owns a restaurant.

JERRY STALLOCK, OWNER, JERRY'S RESTAURANT: I personally don't think this is as big a threat as some of the other people.

TUCHMAN: But the sheriff says in this post-9/11 world, one cannot be too careful. Although he does admit to a transgression.

Do you stop at the border station?

BLOCK: I do. Sometimes.

TUCHMAN: U.S. Customs and Border Protection tell CNN its officers who periodically visit this border area will start making more frequent visits. And better technology will be added, including cameras providing surveillance over the area, not just inside the shack. We did encounter one man from Manitoba who did stop at the videophone.

Any luck?

JOHN FUNK (ph), CROSSING BORDER: No luck.

TUCHMAN: But it didn't work, so he called on a pay phone.

FUNK (ph): Yes. John Funk (ph), reporting in at Youngs -- Jim's Corner.

TUCHMAN: To report his arrival into the United States of America.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Angle Inlet, Minnesota.

COOPER: While parts of the Canadian border may be very porous, here on the U.S.-Mexican border, it's difficult to cross over. Even once you actually scale the fence, you then have to elude the Border Patrol.

(Voice-over): Right now I'm being watched by a heat-sensing camera. These cameras are deployed all along in the San Diego sector here. Once a Border Patrol agent has spotted an illegal immigrant with his heat sensor camera, they can radio their fellow officers who can come in on horseback or ATVs or SUVs and pick them up.

(On camera): As CNN's Ed Lavandera found out, for illegal immigrants who are desperate enough to get here, the long journey it takes can often be deadly.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every night at 6:00 o'clock, dinner is served in the Casa de la Grande (ph) shelter in Nuevo Laredo, New Mexico. These migrants give thanks for the plates of chicken and rice they're about to receive. It's the first real meal 16-year-old Nervin has had in more than a month.

He says, I'm desperate. Everything that I've been through is just awful. I've been hungry and cold.

The shelter has beds, clean showers and clothing. Migrants can stay for two nights before moving north again into the United States. For everyone here, the journey started weeks ago, 1,200 miles to the south.

Chiapas, Mexico, the trains that bring cargo from South and Central America northward start here. It's also where many migrants' journeys begin. These rail lines have been described as a graveyard without crosses.

SONIA NAZARIO, AUTHOR, "ENRIQUE'S JOURNEY": They call it, el tren de la muerte, the train of death.

LAVANDERA: Tens of thousands of Central American migrants hop trains heading north, from southern Mexico, up to border towns like Nuevo Laredo. They will battle bandits who rob and rape. They will go hungry and thirsty for days. And, out of exhaustion, some have fallen under the trains. Thousands have died. Shelters are filled with migrants who have lost legs and arms.

Sonia Nazario rode the train to report for her book, "Enrique's Journey," the story of a teenage boy who made the ride.

NAZARIO: Some of them know that they're taking their life into their hands. They risk losing arms to the train, losing legs to the train, losing their life, but they're willing to take that risk to be able to work and to be able to feed their families.

LAVANDERA (on camera): We asked Nazario to be our guide through Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

NAZARIO: Once you get this far north, the stakes are very high.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Nazario introduced us to Padre Leo (ph), the eccentric bike riding priest, who created the Casa de la Grande (ph) shelter. Father Leo (ph) isn't a typical priest. Wearing donated clothing, he ministers to the poorest neighborhood in this border town, and has convinced his congregation that those who need the most help are the migrants who arrive every day from Central America with worn out shoes and the scars of a brutal journey.

He says, these people eat bread off the ground. They are humiliated. They're not treated like human beings. Every day, Father Leo (ph) meets young migrants, like this 18-year-old Nervin Gerrero (ph). He spent the last month walking and riding the train through Mexico. He left Honduras with $10. Bandits robbed him of that. Sometimes he only ate tortillas that people throw onto the trains for the starving migrants. All this to reunite with his father whom he hasn't seen in two years.

I think about him all the time, he tells us.

More and more teenage boys are riding the trains to reach their parents who have already made it to the U.S.

NAZARIO: It grows every year, and it's growing because of the desperation in these home countries where people just cannot feed their children. And so they see it as the only way to be able to do that.

LAVANDERA: It's almost 8:30 at night now. These migrants pray and reflect on what might happen to them in the days ahead. They've survived the most dangerous part of their journey. But they're still far from the promised land.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: They're at the border, but the danger is far from over. This is Nuevo Laredo after dark. A disturbing inside look at the violence, the drugs and possible terrorist activity just south of the border, when this special edition of 360, "24 Hours on the Border," continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to "24 Hours on the Border." We're at the Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station in the San Diego sector. Anytime someone is caught in this sector illegally entering the country, they're brought here and all their data is taken, their name, their age. But of course, people can lie about that, and they often do.

So this system, the AFIS system, is used to take all their biometric information. But first of all, they fingerprint the person. All 10 fingers are fingerprinted. Then it shows up over here. They also take pictures of the people. All that information is sent to an FBI database, and within a couple of minutes they can find out if the person trying to enter has a criminal background or an immigration history.

There's growing concern about increasing violence on the border. Criminals -- hardened criminals crossing over illegally.

CNN's Randi Kaye recently found out in Texas just how bad it can get.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's just about 8:15 here on the Texas-Mexico border. The sun is going down. And this is when the drug activity and the smuggling activity really begins. The locals say at this hour, the devil comes out, and the border begins to look like the Wild West.

(Voice-over): Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, this is the crossroads of the entire border debate from illegal entry into the U.S. to drug smuggling and even the looming concern about national security.

Is there a way into the U.S. for al Qaeda? After dark, these streets are a bloody shooting gallery. Here Mexican federal agents are in a shootout with drug cartel assassins. Before it's over, all but one of the drug gunmen are dead. The streets will be cleared, the bodies removed -- until it happens again. And it always does.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds like downtown Baghdad.

KAYE: On the U.S. side, Sheriff Rick Flores says the once popular Mexican tourist town has had at least 90 murders this year. No arrests, no leads, nobody's talking.

Only two months ago four Mexican agents investigating the cartels had 30 rounds of automatic fire pumped into them. Weeks before that, a newspaper in Nuevo Laredo was attacked with grenades and gunfire. A not so subtle effort to muzzle the media.

Perhaps more alarming than drug smuggling and gang warfare, growing suspicions that al Qaeda may see this place as a way into the U.S. While terrorists can come from anywhere, deputies have never seen anyone of Middle Eastern descent crossing here. This is the sheriff's fear. RICK FLORES, SHERIFF, WEBB COUNTY, TEXAS: It's very simple. They go to Mexico. They spend a couple of months. They learn the language. They pick up on the culture. And they blend in with the other people who are crossing, making their way into the United States. And possibly even bringing extra luggage with them.

KAYE (on camera): Meaning?

FLORES: Meaning dirty bombs, weapons of mass destruction.

KAYE: You're saying that you believe it's a possibility that al Qaeda or any other type of terrorist group could possibly be smart enough to blend in with these drug cartels and gang members and cross the border that way?

FLORES: If the price is right, anything is possible.

KAYE: A worst-case scenario influenced by his firsthand understanding of just how porous the border really is here.

So that's Mexico right there?

FLORES: That's Mexico right there.

KAYE (voice-over): And that is the Rio Grande River. It stretches 87 miles along the county's border. The sheriff says he just doesn't have enough deputies to patrol all of it. And U.S. Border Patrol cannot make up the difference. But they tell us they are doing everything they can to fix the problem. They have started a recruiting campaign and plan to increase manpower by 9 percent this year.

FLORES: It's impossible for us to have completely -- have people situated every 10 feet in the border. And I'm not asking for that. But what we're asking for is that it's been long overdue that we get the assistance to be able to have additional bodies, more bodies, to be able to be more vigilant.

KAYE: He says last year, the sheriff's deputies confiscated $17 million worth of narcotics. Firearms like this AK-47, and more than $1 million in cash. Well before dark, we witness a run-in at the river. Deputies heard a noise in the woods. Teenagers, they say, drug runners, waiting for a shipment to come across from the Mexican cartels.

And then there is the question of what is crossing into the U.S. in plain sight? Laredo is the largest inland port in the United States. With five international bridges, 7,000 trucks cross daily. And with only 4,800 Border Patrol agents working the entire Texas- Mexico border, why, Sheriff Flores wonders, isn't the federal government doing more here?

FLORES: And it saddens me that we have been forgotten. And people up in Washington ignoring the fact that our national security is at risk.

KAYE: The sheriff says he is outmanned by the cartels, who have better weapons and night vision gear.

FLORES: And I'm very tired of the rhetoric that they continue to throw back and forth, you know. And nobody gets off the dime and does anything about it.

KAYE: Immigration, drugs, smuggling, the threat of al Qaeda -- it's all here, all the time, until Sheriff Flores gets more help.

Randi Kaye, CNN, on the Laredo-Nuevo Laredo border.

COOPER: Day after day, night after night, the battle on the border continues, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Thanks for watching this special edition of 360.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

Search
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines