Border Patrol agent is charged with harboring illegal immigrants


SAN DIEGO — U.S. Border Patrol Agent Marcos Gerardo Manzano Jr. zipped around the hills along the San DiegoTijuana
border pursuing illegal immigrants every day. But his hunt didn’t
extend, authorities allege, to the illegal immigrant living in his own
home — his father.

Manzano’s father, Marcos Gerardo Manzano Sr., was known as a Mr. Fix-it in his working-class San Diego
neighborhood, who did painting and landscaping jobs for a few bucks.
But authorities say Manzano Sr., 46, is a twice-deported illegal
immigrant with a criminal record who may have been dealing drugs.

Three days after teams of heavily armed federal
agents raided the home, the elder Manzano remains a fugitive. His son
was charged with harboring illegal immigrants and lying to federal
agents. Authorities and neighbors are trying to sort out if his alleged
actions were an understandable though still illegal act of mercy, or
part of a larger criminal enterprise.

The search of the house offered mysterious clues:
Under a patio in the backyard, agents found a small room where an
illegal immigrant was hiding. In the house, they also found 61 grams of
methamphetamine along with drug paraphernalia and narcotics packaging

Manzano, 26, a three-year veteran of the agency who
was arrested at work Monday night, made his initial court appearance
Wednesday. He faces up to 10 years in prison and may lose his house to
a criminal forfeiture.

Some neighbors expressed shock and sympathy for the
young Manzano. To them, he was the hard-working young man who rose
early every day to go to work in his neatly pressed green uniform. He
faced an impossible quandary, some say, if his father came to him
seeking shelter.

“What could he do? He’s family,” said neighbor Angelica Garcia. “It’s very sad what happened.”

But authorities said Manzano, as a federal officer,
should have known better than to put himself in the position of housing
an illegal immigrant, even if he was a family member. “His loyalty to
his father was stronger than the loyalty to the Border Patrol, and
that’s the sad reality of it,” said one federal law enforcement officer
who spoke on condition of anonymity because agents are not authorized
to speak with the media.

Manzano became a U.S. Border Patrol agent in 2007 and was assigned to patrol along the border fence near Imperial Beach.
Within two years, authorities allege, he was allowing his father to
live in his cluttered home, in a neighborhood a few blocks from the Chula Vista border patrol station.

Manzano Sr. had been arrested in 2008 for possession
of marijuana for sale and was deported the next year. He had also been
deported in 2007. Authorities, who had the home under surveillance
since September 2009, suspect the house was a center for drug distribution and possibly immigrant smuggling.

Upon discovering the stash of drugs in the house,
authorities initially thought the underground room housed a drug lab,
according to the federal agent. A hazardous materials team was summoned
to the scene to clear the area, but no chemicals were found. Inside the
8-by-8-foot room, accessible by a ladder, authorities found an illegal
immigrant hiding under a table. The immigrant, Jose Alfredo Garrido Morena, 26, had been previously deported.

In the mostly Latino neighborhood where most people
speak Spanish, the immigration status of the elder Manzano wasn’t an
issue. Neighbor Rick Bush, 56, said the father helped him build a tree house in his backyard for $100, and said he seemed like “good people.”

It’s understandable that the younger Manzano faces
punishment, he said, but he should be given some leniency. “They
shouldn’t give him the maximum punishment. I don’t think he deserves
years in jail,” Bush said.

Manzano’s case shares ironic circumstances with previous San Diego corruption cases. One Border Patrol agent convicted in 2006, Oscar Ortiz,
turned out to be an illegal immigrant who presented a fraudulent birth
certificate to get his job. Another agent accused of smuggling
immigrants, Raul Villarreal, was a former agency spokesman who played the role of a Mexican smuggler in a Spanish-language public service announcement.


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