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Sugarcane Fires a Danger to Immigrants

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Posted: Dec 20, 2012 6:43 PM

Updated: Dec 21, 2012 12:05 AM

WESLACO -Billowing clouds of smoke can be seen throughout the Rio Grande Valley as workers set sugarcane fields ablaze before the harvest. Those fires, experts say, represent a danger for illegal immigrants who sometimes seek refuge amid the tall stalks.

The burns make harvesting easier, Jose Garza said. He works harvesting sugarcane.

"We just have to look at the temperature ... the air ... to light it," Garza said.

"It makes the machine work easier because there are less leaves," Garza said.

Workers drive around the fields before the burn making announcements in Spanish and English. The announcements warn anyone in the field to exit immediately.

Border Patrol officials said immigrants use the tall stalks to hide.

"It's an easy area for undocumented immigrants who are crossing the Rio Grande to try to hide inside these sugarcane fields," Border Patrol Spokesman Henry Mendiola said.

The flames race quickly through a field, workers said.

The warnings blared through loudspeakers before the burns are not just for immigrants, Mendiola said.

"Oftentimes, our agents are working in that area. If they're tracking a group though these sugarcane fields, this is a warning for them as well," he said.

Garza said he has never seen anyone run out of a field. He has torched fields for nearly a decade.

Five immigrants died in a burning sugarcane field near Raymondville in 2003.

Topics: jose garza, henry mendiola, sugarcane, burns, immigrants

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