EL PASO — Immigration officers turned happy winners into startled losers Saturday, when 55 illegal aliens showed up to claim contest prizes and, instead, were arrested.
Immigration authorities said that 25 of the aliens came to the balloon-bedecked Texas National Guard armory in response to letters from a non-existent car dealer notifying them that they had won free gifts. They said the other 30 persons arrested were friends and relatives--also illegal aliens--who were with the "winners."
The letters had been sent to the last known addresses of about 270 persons who were ordered deported but had hidden from authorities, INS spokesman Mario Ortiz said.
Ortiz said that the bogus contest was the first such operation used to find aliens sought on deportation arrest warrants. He said the whole project cost $300, including the balloons, popcorn and a costume for a clown.