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Illegal aliens using St. Louis highways to cut across country
ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis interstates are becoming a crossroads for illegal immigrants traveling in the United States.
That was evident Sunday on Interstate 44 after a traffic accident led to the arrest of 17 illegal immigrants from Mexico, all of them in a pickup truck. Five -- all relatives, including two juveniles -- have agreed to leave voluntarily. Ten were still in custody Tuesday and will be deported. Two remain hospitalized.
One passenger told authorities that some occupants had paid $1,500 to be smuggled into the United States.
The driver of the pickup is charged with leaving the scene of an accident and forgery. Immigration officials say he is also an illegal immigrant.
Interstates 44, 55, 64 and 70 intersect at St. Louis, and often carry illegal immigrants.
"With all these highways funneling through here, it's a feeder system to the rest of the country," Lt. Jim Hudson of the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Coming for jobs
Roughly 7 million illegal immigrants, mostly Mexicans, were living in the United States as of January 2000, the government reported in February. The figure represents an increase of 1 million in less than four years.
Agricultural jobs, such as cherry or cranberry picking or working in poultry plants, are big draws, while some immigrants find jobs in factories or the service industry, such as hotels and restaurants.
A majority of the immigrants go undetected, traveling interstates with relative anonymity. They are usually discovered only due to traffic violations or accidents.
In March, St. Charles County sheriff's deputies pulled over a rented minivan on I-70 and found 10 illegal immigrants and an envelope containing 24 blank Social Security cards and 25 blank alien resident cards.
Others are discovered only after a tragedy.
"We've seen some terrible, terrible accidents in the last year," said Marilu Cabrera, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Chicago. "They're driving all night nonstop. They're over tired. They've got a van load of people in often-horrible conditions where they won't stop for days to go to the bathroom or eat."