August 21, 2006

Mexico migrants use cycles to cross Arizona desert

THREE POINTS, Arizona (Reuters) - Illegal immigrants and
drug traffickers are using dilapidated bicycles to make a
swift, night-time dash over the desert to Arizona from Mexico,
border police say.

Border Patrol agents in the desert state are finding dozens
of the bikes dumped at hamlets such as Three Points, southwest
of Tucson, which are used as staging areas by smugglers
ferrying marijuana and immigrants on to cities inland.

"The illegals use bicycles, either riding them on ranch
roads or the foot trails themselves, as a quicker means of
getting north," said Border Patrol agent Kevin Nutwell as he
inspected a rusty bike discarded on one lonely trail south of
Three Points.

Agents say it takes up to three days to walk the 45-mile
(72-km) trail from the border to Three Points, where immigrants
are picked up for an onward journey to Tucson and Phoenix
either by truck or packed into cars.

Stealthy cyclists who make the trip in groups of up to 10
people led by a guide or "coyote" can make the trip in just a
few hours.

Reuters saw two bicycles dumped on ranch trails outside
Three Points, one a 10-speed mountain bike, the other a rusted
Chinese model with fat tires and wing handlebars.

"The bikes have no amenities like brakes and they sometimes
are lucky to have a seat on them," Nutwell said.

"They spray paint the bikes flat-black and remove
reflectors so that it is easier to travel at night undetected,"
he added.

Southern Arizona is the most heavily transited area along
the porous 2,000-mile (3,200-km) U.S. border with Mexico.

Last year the cactus-studded corridor south of Tucson was
used by more than a third of the 1.2 million illegal immigrants
caught crossing the international line.

Nutwell said agents also found bicycles that had been
rigged with special frames to carry bundles of marijuana along
the back roads that crisscross the lonely stretch of desert.

"It's just one of the ingenious forms of smuggling that we
come across; there's no end to it."