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Plant-munching aliens stopped at U.S.-Mexican border

November 13, 2009 |  6:04 pm
U.S. customs and border protection officials not once but twice nabbed intruders furtively attempting to enter the country this week from Mexico.

But the intruders weren’t illegal immigrants. They were pests known as pale-striped flea beetles, which chew holes and pits in leaves and represent a threat to California’s agricultural industry. Beetle larvae feeding on plant roots have caused serious crop damage in the Imperial Valley in the past.

According to Billy Whitford, the agency’s director of port operations in Calexico, the pests were discovered Monday during inspections of two separate shipments in the port’s cargo import facility. In the first shipment, the pests were discovered in more than 700 boxes of fresh red oak lettuce, red romaine and arugula. The second shipment  contained more than 800 boxes of mizuna, coriander and tango produce. Both shipments were sent back to Mexico.

“We are not only aggressively combating the flow of illegal narcotics and preventing people from illegally entering our nation,” Whitford said in a statement. “We also dedicate the same amount of effort to preventing pests such as the pale-striped beetle which pose risks to our borders.”

--Teresa Watanabe