August 22, 2003

13-year-old Found Two Days After Customs Impounds Van

By Mariana Martinez

On Saturday, August 9, around six p.m., a van was stopped at the San Ysidro border crossing by border protection agents. The car was driven by a man identified as Michael James Murphy, an American citizen who tried to cross the border with a 34-year-old woman hidden in a special compartment found behind the van’s dashboard.

Authorities believed the car had previously been used for that same purpose before and were suspicious of the driver’s nervousness, so after further inspection they found the woman and impounded the car. The van was then taken to a special Customs lot that same day.

On August 11 at eleven o’clock Monday morning, a Customs agent found 13 year old Floriberta Jiménez Tomas sitting in the van. The girl had quietly gotten out of another compartment in the same van where she had been hidden for 34 hours.

The authorities called the Mexican Consulate, who in turn, found the girl’s parents.

Dirty, dehydrated and exhausted Floriberta said she hadn’t made any sounds or tried to get out because she was afraid of being caught. The girl was taken to a hospital where her father picked her up. She will remain in the US with a special permit, so she can testify against the driver of the van during his trial.

Born in San Jorge, in the state of Oaxaca, Floriberta´s journey began last year, when she and her mother left their town to live in Tijuana. Her father is a legal resident in the US who came to this country during the 80’s, he frequently traveled to Oaxaca to visit his wife and daughter but after more than ten years apart he decided to bring them to live with him in the US.

So the girl and her mother came to live in Tijuana until they could cross; her mother crossed first, a few weeks ago, so Floriberta went to live with her aunt, waiting to be reunited with her family in the US.

According to Anthropologist Guillermo Meneses Alonso, Population Studies Department researcher at COLEF (Northern Border Research Center), “During the last few years, there have been significant changes in border crossing flows; historically, mostly men crossed the border, they came back to México during the holidays, because the border situation allowed them to come and go, but about four or five years ago this kind of emigration pattern began to shift and a new one started to brew; men are starting to stay longer in the US and are finding ways to bring their families.”

This tendency is motivated mainly because of higher security measures and a greater danger across the border, leading to the mobilization of a new, rather vulnerable immigrant group, such as woman or underage teenagers and children, creating a window of opportunity for physical and sexual abuse, rape, robbery and fraud either by “polleros,” law enforcement agents, or plain old thieves specializing in robbing immigrants, who most certainly have money enough to pay for someone to help them cross the border and are easy targets.

After almost a century of constant migration to the US, it comes as no surprise that the reasons to come to this country are no longer just economic, but also about families trying to keep together.

Alonso Meneses specializes in illegal migration patterns explains “Not everybody wants to cross the border to work, I’ve found old women who tell me:

—All I want to do is meet my grandchildren.

—I just want to see my sons and daughters again.

—I want to help my daughter-in -law because she is going into labor soon… I just want to be there and then come back.

Important life moments of loved ones are also very important, so parties are also a motivation; weddings, christenings, communions, funerals.

People need to cross the border motivated by family ties and traditions, as well as celebrations, and then they come back… so this gives undocumented crossing a whole new meaning,” Meneses concluded.

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