Monday, March 14, 2005
The debate about illegal immigration is probably one of the hottest topics you'll hear in law enforcement circles throughout Southern California and Arizona right now. At the same time, the discussions will merge within legal debates, as the efforts to curb illegal immigration do not only apply to those who run across the border, but also those who traffic people who don't want to take the chance of making a run for it.
One of more than 70 illegal immigrants who were trapped in a sweltering, airless tractor-trailer testified against the driver Thursday, describing the thud of falling bodies as people died around him in the darkness.
Asked how long he believed he was in the trailer, Jose Juan Roldan Castro replied, "For me, it was centuries."
Roldan testified Thursday on the third day of the trial of Tyrone Williams, who drove and abandoned the big rig and could face the death penalty if convicted for his role in the deaths of 19 of the immigrants in May 2003.
Roldan, who was smuggled from Mexico, said he listened as others began dying and their bodies fell.
"At that point, I was in bad shape. My head was bursting. I could no longer breathe," Roldan said.
Even though the first death - that of a 5-year-old boy - sent a wave of panic through the group, Roldan said other illegal immigrants who feared being apprehended yelled and hit him as he punched a hole through one of the rear brake lights to create an air hole.
"I told them, 'Don't you understand? We run the risk of losing our lives.' When people realized (that) they began making another hole," Roldan testified, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter.
Roldan, 38, said as the heat became unbearable, he and the other immigrants took off their sweat-drenched clothes and crowded around the punched-out holes so they could breathe.
When prosecutors asked if he wanted to get out of the vehicle, Roldan responded: "Who would want to be inside that truck, inside that hell?"