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Full Circle

Day 226: Tijuana, Baja California

Michael Palin - Full CircleThe migrants are known as pollos (chickens) and those who help them across are called polleros or coyotes. A simple crossing can cost a hundred dollars or so; if faked documents are required it can rise to a thousand. It's a risky business. Many pollos speak only Spanish and have no idea where they are. They are often cheated or preyed on by cholos, gangs of young Mexicans who take whatever money they have.

As we talk, a young man ducks under the fence and saunters across. He wears a white shirt, black trousers and carries his belongings in a plastic bag slung over his shoulder. He seems to make no attempt to conceal himself. Arturo is not especially surprised. Sometimes, he says, it is safer to cross in broad daylight than at night with the laser beams, infrared lights and sensors.

Everyone on the Mexican side stops and watches the young man's progress. There is no excitement, just curiosity. Most of us seem to hear the sound of vehicles approaching before he does. Even when the two Border Patrol Ford Broncos converge on him he makes no attempt to run or even turn back. He waits for them to pick him up. He has gone no more than three hundred yards. But by then everyone has turned away.

I ask Arturo what will happen to him. He says he will be questioned, finger-printed, possibly held in jail for a while, then bussed back across into Mexico. If he has a record of previous illegal crossings he could stay in jail a lot longer.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 226
  • Country/sea: Mexico
  • Place: Tijuana
  • Book page no: 292

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