ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The police chief of a Mexican border town racked by smuggling-related violence fled to the U.S. seeking asylum after his deputies abandoned him, federal officials said Friday.
Emilio Perez, the chief of Palomas, Mexico, showed up at the international port of entry in Columbus, N.M., late Tuesday, saying his two deputies had left the department and that he now needed protection, too, according to Doug Mosier, a U.S. Border Patrol spokesman in El Paso.
Perez was taken in and was believed to be in custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Friday, according to Mosier. Letitia Zamarripa, an ICE spokeswoman, declined to comment on the case, citing privacy issues.
"This is a little off the beaten path, I haven't seen this before," Mosier said. "(But) with the escalating violence in Palomas, we understand why this individual sought asylum."
Perez's village, just south of the border with New Mexico, was once a relatively quiet town. But violence has increased in the last few years, as it has elsewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border, and appears to have spiked of late.
On Thursday, the bodies of two people were found wrapped in blankets and dumped along a road near Palomas, and several other people were seen taken hostage over the past few days by heavily armed men, the newspaper El Diario of Juarez, Mexico, reported Friday.
Last month, two men were gunned down at a gas station near the international checkpoint, officials said.
The telephone went unanswered Friday at the Mexican consulate in El Paso, Texas, and at federal police headquarters in the state of Chihuahua - where Palomas is located.
Palomas has had a spate of drug-related violence as Mexico's ongoing crackdown on powerful cartels fuels turf wars among traffickers. The area also is a common meeting point for migrants heading north.
Mosier also pointed to another recent crime in which the mayor of Columbus visited a dentist in Palomas - only to have his root canal interrupted by two pistol-toting men came in demanding money. No one was injured.
"They're getting brazen down there," Mayor Eddie Espinoza later told the Deming Headlight newspaper. "I didn't have no fear about going to Palomas, before. Now, I do."
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