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Were they pink elephants by chance?

11 October 2006

No, we haven’t become the Mexican afflilate of Animal Planet this week! In honor of the U.S. elections, we’re covering elephants and donkeys here at the Mex Files!

The late Ann Richards said Texas was the kind of place where we don’t hide our crazy people in the attic… we give them the best seat in the parlor. Texans are proud of their crazy people (take a look at the Republic of Texas’ founding fathers some time!) and it’s a little embarrasing to get a foreign import (from, as Juanita would say, “one of them foreign states up north”) who out-crazies the natives.

Sara Inés Calderón of the Brownsville Herald had the happy experience of stumbling on just such a treasure. As I wrote yesterday, she’s the one who broke the story of the elephant invasion across the Rio Grande. This afternoon — for perfectly legimate reasons (I’m contracted to do 1500 words on the effects of border security measures on my stretch of the river) — I called Calderón. Of course I had to congratulate her on finding such a treasure, but what’s more important, is she’s found the story is even nuttier than we thought.

October 11, 2006 — Reports of an elephant crossing the river or people trying to smuggle an elephant across were rampant Tuesday while an elaborate political stunt was taking shape near the mouth of the Rio Grande.It was a while later that the stunt, which was a photo shoot, was abruptly met by federal agents.“The elephant never made landfall into Mexico, but I tell you something, he could have made 15 laps back and forth, but no one showed up,” said Raj Peter Bhakta, a former star on the NBC show “The Apprentice,” who also is a Republican candidate for the 13th District U.S. House of Representatives seat in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Bhakta decided to see if he could get an elephant accompanied by a six-piece mariachi band across the river.

According to his Web site, he is in favor of “sensible immigration reform” and supports a border fence, local law enforcement assistance with immigration laws and the use of the National Guard troops to help the U.S. Border Patrol.

“To my surprise, the band played on, the elephants splashed away, and nobody showed up,” Bhakta said of the stunt. “I’m astounded.”

The elephants came from Shrine Circuses, said James Plunkett, who produces the circus.

Plunkett said he and his crew were hired for a “photo shoot” and entered the Boca Chica beach area without any notice from the Border Patrol. However, when it became clear that the elephants were in a quarantined area, the Border Patrol alerted the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the elephants had to be detained.

[Bhakta] said he was “staggered” by what happened on Tuesday and was planning on sharing the story with his potential constituents.

“If I can get an elephant led by a mariachi band into this country, I think Osama bin Laden could get across with all the weapons of mass destruction he could get into this country,” Bhakta said.

The mariachi band was not immediately available for comment.

The Philadelphia-area congress-wannabe (it’s a safe-seat Democratic district) has been having to share all kinds of things with his constituents… like two drunk driving convictions he somehow neglected to mention, and producing inaccurate campaign literature.

OK, it wasn’t quite relevant to what I’m doing on security in the Big Bend, but I was fascinated by Raj’s assertion that Osama bin Ladin could have crossed the border… especially since I telephoned him (215-628-4005) and he claimed the elephants had never been in Mexico. Calderón notes that the river isn’t very wide — or very deep — at Browsnville-Matamoros, and elephants are very wide. They may have been IN Mexico… illegally, as has happened before, much to the consternation of the U.S. Fish and Wildelife Service. Not to mention animal rights people, and even anti-immigration groups like “Ranch Rescue” which tell the story of Benny, smuggled into Mexico from Texas back in 2001 — resulting in a customs inspectors on both sides of the border losing their jobs.

And, no word on whether the mariachis were U.S. citizens… now that would be a good scandal! [The Brownsville Herald October 12 editorial mentions that the folks involved in this stunt ran from the “tick watchers” who nabbed ’em, making it a definite maybe]

So, the elephants were never in Mexico, but apparently Raj was.

…at least one of them was taken in as an undocumented immigrant. Bhakta, who was born in India, is a legal U.S. resident but didn’t have his papers. Customs and Border Protection officials reportedly detained him for four hours before proof of legal U.S. residency could be ascertained.

Says Raj on immigration: (

I am a first generation American. My father was born in India and my mother was born in Ireland. We would not be the country we are today had immigrants not paved the way. We do, however, need sensible immigration reform. I support additional funding for border enforcement as well as efforts to attract the best and the brightest from around the world.


The best and brightest… mariachi players? Elephant handlers? P.R. flacks?

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