Thursday, October 12, 2006

Elephants and mariachi band cross the US/Mexico border unimpeded

BROWNSVILLE - Reports of an elephant crossing the river or elephant smugglers were rampant Tuesday while an elaborate political stunt was taking shape near the mouth of the Rio Grande.

A while later, the escapade, which turned out to be 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, 31, a former star on the NBC show "The Apprentice," who also is a Republican candidate for the Pennsylvania 13th District U.S. House seat.

Three elephants, two African and an Asian, were taken out to a ranch near Boca Chica beach to perform, Bhakta said.

He was in Brownsville to raise funds with friends and decided to get a first-hand look at border security while he was here, he said.

In Brownsville, he witnessed half a dozen men swim under one of the international bridges "with complete immunity," which prompted him to take the immigration issue to the next level.

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 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. They arrived in Brownsville on Monday and were scheduled to be on their way to Maybank on Tuesday afternoon. The elephants and the crew were at the Rio Grande for less than an hour, Plunkett said.

Plunkett said he and his crew were hired for a "photo shoot" and arrived at the Boca Chica beach area without 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.

The animals needed to be sprayed for ticks.

Rumors made their way around town and back to Plunkett and his crew, he said.

"We were hearing all kinds of crazy stuff ourselves," Plunkett said.

Someone reported to the Border Patrol that people were smuggling elephants, he said.

Bhakta was getting on a plane Tuesday afternoon after the USDA released the elephants and they began their journey back to Maybank.

He 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.