HOLTVILLE, Calif. — The 13 people killed in one of the deadliest highway crashes involving migrants sneaking into the U.S. had entered California through a section of border fence with Mexico that was cut away, apparently by smugglers, immigration officials said Wednesday.
Surveillance video showed a Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Suburban drive through the opening early Tuesday, said Gregory Bovino, the Border Patrol’s El Centro sector chief. The video has not been publicly released because it’s part of an ongoing investigation.
The Suburban carried 19 people, and it caught fire for unknown reasons on a nearby interstate after entering the U.S. All escaped the vehicle and were taken into custody by Border Patrol agents.
The Expedition crammed with 25 people continued on, and a tractor-trailer struck it a short time later. Ten of the 13 killed in that crash have been identified as Mexican citizens. The Border Patrol said its agents were not pursuing the vehicle before the wreck.
The opening in the fence was about 30 miles east of the crash in the heart of California’s Imperial Valley, a major farming region now at the height of a harvest that provides much of the lettuce, onions, broccoli and winter vegetables to U.S. supermarkets.
It was made of steel bollards that were built before former President Donald Trump blanketed much of the border with taller barriers that go deeper into the ground. Photos show a panel of eight steel poles was lifted out and left on the ground in the desert next to an old tire and other debris.
The breach occurred in a busy area for illegal crossings near the Imperial Sand Dunes where migrants often climb over the barrier and wait for drivers to pick them up, hoping to avoid Border Patrol agents at checkpoints on highways leading to Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix.