SAN DIEGO — Authorities detained 21 illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said Monday.
The men and women came in two groups at the Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego and are being held while the immigration service decides whether any qualify to remain in the United States, INS spokeswoman Lauren Mack said.
Because of privacy laws, the INS can’t disclose whether any in the group are seeking political asylum, Mack said.
By far, most illegal immigrants caught at the border in San Diego are Mexican. Authorities occasionally stop people from other countries, but it is rare to encounter a large group from Sri Lanka in Southern California, she said.
The Sri Lankans arrived on foot in two groups. Sixteen arrived Saturday and five more Sunday.
They told authorities they traveled by plane from their South Asian island nation to Jordan, then came to Mexico by ship. Each paid between $19,000 and $31,000 for the journey.
Last year, nine illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka who came individually or in small groups were detained at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, Mack said.
Sri Lanka has been plagued by an 18-year civil war in which at least 64,000 people have died.
Militants among the 3.2 million Tamils of the island-nation off the southern tip of India are leading an often violent campaign for a separate homeland. They allege that Tamils are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese, who comprise 14 million of the country’s 18.6 million people.