Mexican consulate staff posing as U.S. immigration agents interfered with a murder and smuggling probe following a border patrol chase of illegal aliens that ended in a fatal freeway crash near San Diego.

The incident, which appears to be a breach of national sovereignty and security, began last Thursday when U.S. Border Patrol agents and California Highway Patrol officers chased a pickup truck loaded with Mexicans believed to have entered the U.S. illegally, according to San Diego radio talk show host Roger Hedgecock, whose staff has been investigating the story.

After crossing spike strips laid down by police, the fleeing truck hit a freeway abutment on Interstate 8, about 40 miles east of San Diego, and crashed, killing two women. The San Diego Union-Tribune, in a brief story on the crash, said the two women were Mexican nationals Juana Hernandez Gamino, 59, of Jalisco state and Victoria Sanchez Garza, 17, of Guanajuato state.

When the driver, Carlos Sanchez Moreno, was taken by ambulance to the hospital, he was accompanied by an employee of the Mexican consulate, Ivan Castillo Rodriguez, who presented a badge and identified himself as a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agent, according to Hedgecock. Castillo, posing as an INS agent, interviewed Sanchez during the ride and remained with him at Scripps Mercy Hospital in the Hillcrest community of San Diego.

Later on Jan. 9, five Mexican consulate employees, also presenting themselves as INS agents, showed up at Grossmont Hospital in nearby La Mesa, Calif., and demanded the release of two Mexicans being held and treated in connection with the crash. The two guides had led the illegal aliens across the border by foot into the U.S. where they met up with the truck.

The guides were turned over to the Mexican consulate employees, four men and a woman, then disappeared. One of the consulate employees was identified by Hedgecock as Carlos Navarro.

Coincidentally, Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the San Diego area yesterday to tour the nearby border facility and evaluate security.

Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez, who was traveling with Ashcroft, said in a phone interview with WorldNetDaily that the attorney general was aware of the fatal crash.

In response to questions by WND, Martinez said only, “We take every allegation seriously, and we will review every instance and issue arising from this and make an appropriate determination.”

The driver Sanchez, now in the custody of the San Diego County sheriff, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the crash, according to Border Patrol officer Maj. Ben Bowman. Other charges include evasion and reckless driving. Sanchez’s first court appearance is scheduled for today at 1:30 p.m. in El Cajon Superior Court.

Bowman did not return a call by WND yesterday.

‘Violation of sovereignty’

Columnist Michelle Malkin, who specializes in immigration issues, told Hedgecock on his KOGO program yesterday afternoon that her sources are telling a similar story.

“What we are dealing with here is an absolute violation of our sovereignty, when you have Mexican consular officials apparently posing as INS agents and in possession, allegedly, of INS badges, and obstructing a criminal investigation,” she said.

“We only suspected Mexico was running our immigration policy, but now we have it actually happening,” added Malkin, author of the recently published book, “Invasion, How America Lets Terrorists, Torturers, and Other Foreign Criminals Right Through the Front Door.”

Along with charges of murder and illegal-alien smuggling, the investigation involves a charge of marijuana possession, Hedgecock said.

Malkin said she believes Mexico’s apparent obstruction in the case is worthy of a federal probe.

“We really need to hear from John Ashcroft and the Homeland Security Department, and President Bush, for that matter,” said Malkin.

“It’s bad enough that we’ve got the spread of these sham Mexican ID cards, the matricular consular cards,” she said, “but this is 10 times worse – to have officials of a foreign government masquerading as our own federal agents.”

Badge distribution

How did the Mexican consulate employees get the badges?

Malkin explained that over the past several years, Mexico has established “liaison units” that collaborate with U.S. officials when incidents involving Mexican nationals arise.

A liaison group from the Mexican consul general’s office was given office space at the U.S. Border Patrol’s building at the frontier, said Hedgecock. But after Sept. 11, because of increased security requirements, the Mexican staff needed some kind of special ID to be allowed into the border patrol parking lot.

“So the INS went ahead and gave them the standard ID that says ‘INS,'” Hedgecock said.

Though the badges were meant for a limited use, the Mexican consular employees used them to pose as INS employees, he said.

“The CHP [California Highway Patrol] didn’t know the difference; the hospital officials and security didn’t know the difference,” said Hedgecock. “They thought they were members of the INS.”

According to a CHP officer, the consular employee, Castillo, presented himself as an INS investigator when he was allowed to ride to the hospital with Sanchez, the driver who has been charged with murder.

A border patrol agent named Brian who called Hedgecock’s show yesterday said he knows Castillo, who is allowed “unfettered” access with the U.S. border agency.

The border agent said he has heard nothing from his superiors about this incident, noting that he and his colleagues are “reminded on a daily basis” to let in the consular officials to allow them to see how Mexican nationals are being treated.

“I don’t think that anybody, when they set up these units, saw them as a means for Mexican consular officials to run interference for their criminal alien smugglers and murderers,” said Malkin.

Malkin said that according to her sources, this is not the first time this kind of interference has occurred.

“What we are sitting on top of is a total violation of national sovereignty, but also a huge security risk here,” she said.

The border patrol agent told Hedgecock on his show that, based on his experience, he thought the incident would quietly die down.

“They will roll it over, no one will say anything, and it will be business as usual,” he said of U.S. Border Patrol officials.

Hedgecock, vowing to stay on the story, noted another incident of Mexican encroachment on the U.S. Border Patrol at Copper Canyon, east of San Diego, in October 2000.

WorldNetDaily reported that for the second time that year, Mexican army soldiers crossed into the U.S. and fired upon U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Seven months prior to that incident, Mexican soldiers crossed the border in two Mexican army Humvees and fired on a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle near Santa Teresa, N.M. Border Patrol union officials said the Mexicans chased the Americans over a mile onto U.S. soil. The Humvees held about 16 “heavily armed” soldiers.

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