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Illegal Immigrants Are Briefly Trapped After Man Becomes Stuck in Pipeline

October 11, 2006|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — More than a dozen illegal immigrants were briefly trapped inside a cross-border pipeline structure Tuesday after a man got stuck in the narrow passageway and had to be rescued by San Diego firefighters.

The immigrants were crawling through a passageway connecting a Mexican-based industrial gas supplier with a holding tank on the U.S. side, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The concrete-encased passage was used to protect piping that once carried liquefied oxygen, she said.

The immigrants had crawled nearly to the exit point in the United States when a man wearing a puffy, woolen sweater got stuck, Mack said. Firefighters had to break through concrete to extract him.

Authorities with the U.S. Border Tunnel Task Force have been keeping a close watch on the area just east of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, where many immigrants crawl through vast storm drain networks to get into the country. This is believed to be the first time in the San Diego area that migrants have been caught using an existing subterranean passageway that appeared to be privately owned, Mack said. The passageway, which was at least 120 feet long, was extremely narrow and filled with water, Mack said.

"It's really, really dangerous, and they're lucky nobody died,'' she said.

Seven migrants were apprehended on the U.S. side; the rest are believed to have returned to Mexico.

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