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Illegal immigrants abandoned on freeway after van breaks down

Paul Matthews
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 12, 2001

Nearly three dozen illegal Mexican immigrants were abandoned this morning along a freeway ramp in Mesa after a van carrying them to California broke down.

Agents with the Immigration and Naturalization Service took custody of 30 men and women and drove them to the INS processing facility in Phoenix. Another five or six undocumented immigrants walked away before INS arrived, said Officer Mike Harrigan of the state Department of Public Safety.

"They were just happy to see food, water and blankets," said Mary Cameli, deputy chief with the Mesa Fire Department.

The stranded immigrants told Harrigan they were en route to California and Arkansas. The group had been traveling for two days when the 1997 Ford van they were riding in broke down early today on the Superstition Freeway near Mesa Drive, Harrigan said.

"They all came from Mexico City," Harrigan said. "They all got on a bus from there and traveled two days as far as it would go."

From there, they spent three to four days walking in the desert to Agua Prieta in southern Arizona, where they eventually found a "coyote" - someone who agreed to drive them to their final destination in exchange for money, Harrigan said.

The van was registered to a Douglas woman, but DPS hasn't determined whether she was involved in the incident.

Cameli said the immigrants were dehydrated and hungry, and Harrigan said some hadn't had anything to eat or drink in three days.

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