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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

A Discussion: How Illegal Immigration Works

Aired May 15, 2003 - 19:04   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Ted Conover is a journalist who knows about secret trips across the U.S. border. His book, "Coyotes: A Journey Through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens," chronicles their trip and is an amazing read and profiles the guys, the so-called coyotes who bring people across. Ted Conover joins us now. Thanks for being with us.
First of all the coyotes, these are the people that actually make the arrangements?

TED CONOVER, "COYOTOES" AUTHOR: That's right. If you're an immigrant, you have some money, you want to get across the border into the interior of the United States, you usually pay a coyote, a smuggler, to help you do that.

COOPER: Now in this case, these people in the truck, the truck did not actually start in Mexico, or at least in many cases, the truck doesn't start in Mexico. It starts here in the U.S.

CONOVER: Yes. It's usually not just one or two people who do this, it's a whole organization, a mafia, that's what the immigrants call them. And you'll meet somebody on the border town, on the Mexican side. They'll say how far are you going? You'll negotiate the price and you'll usually cross the border under your own steam, you know, you'll jump the fence or you'll wade across the river. Then you'll meet somebody who takes you to the next phase.

COOPER: Because that's the most difficult -- you were telling me before the break, that's the most difficult point. Once you've made it across the border it's pretty easy, it's once you're in the U.S. that's tough.

CONOVER: Right. Crossing the border is usually not that tough. What's hard is to go the next 50 or 60 miles into Texas or Arizona or California because that's where all the immigration, American immigration police are.

COOPER: And the cost of this? How much to get to Houston, to get to Dallas?

CONOVER: Gosh, from the Texas border to Houston is probably $400 or $500 now. It's a bit more the further you go.

COOPER: And what is it like? You've made this crossing with these coyotes? Describe it.

CONOVER: It's different every single time. Sometimes it's a sort of mom and pop operation. I once paid $75 to cross the Rio Grande in a raft at Laredo with a Mexican who I'd met on a bus.

Another time I paid I think it was $250 hoping to go from Sonaueta (ph) on the Arizona-Mexico border up to Phoenix. We held out for the cheapest coyote, we were comparison shopping. I was with 17 Mexicans.

COOPER: This is not the kind of thing you want to do, comparison shopping.

CONOVER: That was my lesson because you get what you paid for. And these guys were cheap because they didn't pay off the police. This isn't American police, it's Mexican police who are taking a cut of the coyotes' business in order to let them proceed unmolested. Someone tipped off the police. They were waiting for us, they took us to headquarters, beat everybody up until they realized I was there and then let us go, less most of the money.

COOPER: Unbelievable. And I mean, a lot of people die on the way. A lot of people don't have enough water with them, don't have enough food. It's a nightmare.

CONOVER: It's a recurring tragedy, you know. If you follow the news, every few months there's a story like this. A coyote gets scared. They leave the truck with all these people in it. Or else the immigrants themselves make a mistake; they go out into the desert without enough water. And in a typical year, 300 to 400 people die coming into this country illegally like that.

COOPER: It's unbelievable. And more keep coming.

Ted Conover, we appreciate you joining us.

CONOVER: Thank you.

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