Since 2010, more than 2200 Romanians have come into California from Mexico illegally and surrendered to the first U.S. Border Patrol agent they saw, according to Border Patrol statistics and accounts.
Many of them surrendered in Imperial Beach, some in Campo, and others in the El Centro district, according to Border Patrol spokesman Bill Brooks. They are not trying to use the ports of entry, officials said.
"They know exactly what they are doing," San Diego sector chief Paul Beeson said. "They come in groups of a dozen or so that include children, say they are families and that the women are pregnant."
Patrol agents say the groups surrender peacefully and easily — without running — and seem to seek out agents to surrender to. Agents say that some of them insist on being called “Gypsies” rather than Romanian.
Roma, the ethnic minority some call Gypsies, live in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and other Eastern European countries. They were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis and have again become targets of neo-fascist groups in Eastern Europe. They have their own language, Romani, which linguists say is derived from Hindi.
According to Amnesty International, the 10 million to 12 million Roma in Europe are subject to hate crimes and discriminatory laws. More than 120 violent crimes, including murder and bombings, targeted Roma in Europe in the past five years.
Until recently, Roma were able to obtain refugee status and benefits once they arrived in Canada. But they have been turned away from traditional ports of entry or have been unable to obtain travel visas directly to Canada or the U.S.; Mexico, however, will let them enter the country.
Once the people officially identified as Romanian have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and have been processed by the Border Patrol, they are given an immigration hearing date and released, as long as there's no significant criminal history or other information that would trigger a detention. Then they disappear.
So far this year, more than 300 have entered the U.S. from Mexico and surrendered. Last year may have been the peak year, with more than 800 reported Romanians — up from 670 in 2011 and more than 400 in 2010. By contrast, just 37 Romanians were caught by the Border Patrol along the California border between 2005 and 2009, according to Border Patrol statistics.
News accounts from Romania and Canada suggest that they are funneling through Mexico to California and on to Canada, where, until recently, members of the Roma ethnic minority group could still attain refugee status.
In March, the Associated Press reported that Romanian officials had arrested three men who were using eight travel agencies in the southern city of Craiova to smuggle Romanians to Canada through Mexico. And the Canadian Broadcast System has done a series of stories on Roma entering Canada illegally from the U.S. in order to seek asylum there.