Most Chinese Escapees Are Recaptured


Almost all of the 200 or so Chinese immigrants who escaped from custody at a Mexican airport were rounded up on both sides of the border by Sunday afternoon, many of them caught by the U.S. Border Patrol as they wandered across the desert without shoes or shirts, suffering blisters, sores and dehydration.

But because of the differences in each country’s laws, the ones who made it to U.S. soil may be the most fortunate.

Those caught in Mexico were being flown back to China, under Mexican policy. But the 106 captured by Border Patrol agents near Calexico were bused Sunday to San Pedro, where under U.S. law they can be released on bond, pending deportation hearings.


Many illegal immigrants never show up for their deportation hearings, according to Border Patrol officials, meaning that many of the Chinese immigrants could end up living illegally in this country.

The incident began last month, when 307 U.S.-bound Chinese men were arrested after their ship was spotted off the Mexican coast near Ensenada. On Friday night, about 200 of them escaped from an airport hangar in Mexicali, where they were about to be deported to China. They broke down a security cordon and overran weary guards.

Mexican authorities quickly found 58 of the escapees, all of whom were being flown back to China. By Sunday afternoon, only 40 were missing, and officials theorized that they were hiding in the large Chinese community inside Mexicali.

Paul Villanueva, assistant chief of the Border Patrol in El Centro, said his officers had picked up 106 of the Chinese men, some of them walking in groups of up to 20, others wandering alone across the U.S. desert.

“We figure we’ve caught as many as we’re going to catch,” Villanueva said.

“We just picked the last one up about 30 minutes ago,” he said Sunday afternoon. “This one wasn’t even wearing shoes. Many of them are not familiar with the terrain. They have blisters and splinters on their feet. They’re dressed in torn clothes, or without shirts. They’re in poor shape. Some have had no water or no food.

“So quite a few of them are happy to be in custody with us.”

Among the immigrants captured by U.S. authorities were nine juveniles, the youngest 15. They were being held in El Centro for processing. Special hearings will be conducted to determine whether they must return to China.


The adults were put on two buses bound for the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s detention facility in San Pedro. There, they will be eligible to be released on bond. Villanueva said he understands that many have made arrangements. Once released, they await hearings on their status.