• 21Jun
  • Chinese immigrants detained at airport
  • 6/21/2004
  • Saturday, June 19, 2004 - Police detained six illegal Chinese immigrants and four others after their plane landed at El Monte Airport, authorities said Saturday.

    The illegal immigrants - one girl, four women and one man - were expected to be interviewed and will become material witnesses in a case against an alleged smuggler, said Lori Haley, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

    Haley did not know where they were being held or where the plane came from.

    El Monte Airport officials declined to comment Saturday.

    Government officials contacted El Monte police Friday, informing them of the plane's cargo and expected arrival time. El Monte police were asked to detain the occupants until government agents arrived, Lt. Steve Crigbaum said.

    Ten passengers, including the six Chinese nationals, the pilot, and three others whose identities are unknown, were detained at about 9:45 p.m. Friday without incident.

    El Monte police held the passengers and crew at the airport for less than an hour before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents landed a plane of their own and promptly whisked the detainees to an undisclosed location, Crigbaum said.

    "I've been here over 20 years and I haven't heard of that,' El Monte police Sgt. Steve Reneer said.

    One popular method of illegally entering the United States from Asian countries is to get to Mexico and then cross the border, said Daniel Deng, a Rosemead-based attorney specializing in criminal defense and immigration rights.

    The plane could have picked up the immigrants at a remote area in Mexico and then flown to El Monte, he said.

    Some pay $30,000 to $50,000 to get to the U.S., often looking for a better life, Deng said.

    "A regional airport could be used,' he said. "It's close by to Mexico, easy to get to and there are no immigration agencies checking status.'

    But El Monte Airport probably isn't the best destination for illegal activities, since the El Monte Police Department keeps helicopters on site, said Scott Stevenson, president of the San Gabriel Airport Association. Stevenson, who had not heard about the arrests, was waiting at the airport cafe to see if the skies would clear Saturday afternoon.

    "There's quite a lot of aerial police activity, so I don't think El Monte was a good choice,' Stevenson said.

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