Mexican immigration officials indicted


TIJUANA, Mexico -- The regional chief of the Mexican immigration service in Tijuana and two deputies have been charged with corruption in a growing scandal involving an alleged network of Mexican federal officials allied with immigrant smugglers.

The Mexican secretariat of the interior is investigating allegations that the immigration service delegation in Tijuana earned as much as $70,000 a week for providing safe passage through the border region for Chinese, Central American and other non-Mexican immigrants. A Mexican official close to the investigation said that further revelations and arrests are likely.

The corruption has become so systematic that some Mexican immigration inspectors allegedly travel elsewhere in Mexico to escort groups of U.S.-bound illegal immigrants by plane to Tijuana, according to a report released last week by a veteran human rights activist.

A law enforcement source in the report said one inspector "travels to Cancun, for example, and brings 20 or 30 people. When the agent gets to the immigration checkpoint at the airport, the agent himself pays his colleagues. Then he transports [the migrants] in his own vehicles. There is one who they call 'The Orient Express,' because he brings Asians from Cancun."

Alleged misconduct by immigration administrators in Tijuana recently provoked a complaint from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City in the form of a diplomatic note of protest, according to Mexican officials. Asked to comment, a U.S. Embassy representative said only that the U.S. government "expressed its concern about the allegations to the government of Mexico, which advised that it would take appropriate steps."

The Mexican federal attorney general's office Friday arraigned Virgilio Alberto Munoz Perez, the regional immigration delegate and a well-known former newspaper editor in Tijuana, on charges including abuse of authority. Mr. Munoz's former deputy and a former chief inspector, who remains a fugitive, were also dismissed and charged.

The crackdown bolsters suspicions expressed last year by U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agents when the flow of Chinese border-crossers through the Baja corridor escalated: Despite pledges to crack down on non-Mexican illegal immigrants, some Mexican authorities appear to be an integral part of the big-money smuggling industry at the border.

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