When two state troopers spotted a van weaving back and forth on the Thruway early today, they pulled the van over with the expectation that the driver may have been drunk.
Instead, they found 22 Mexican aliens, crammed into the late-model Dodge van, causing the overloaded vehicle to sway back and forth.
When Troopers Eddie L. Scott and Praxedes Luna stopped the van at about 3:30 a.m. on the eastbound Thruway near Lackawanna, they found only two bucket seats in the vehicle, with the back of the van used as cargo space.
"They were sprawled all over the back of the van," Chief William F. Dickman of the U.S. Border Patrol said.
The 22 persons, who reportedly were headed from Ohio to Albion to pick apples, were apprehended and processed as deportable aliens, Dickman said.
According to a preliminary investigation of the Mexicans, three of the 22 have "quasi-legal" status, because they already had applied for resident alien status under the Special Agricultural Workers law.
Under that law, aliens have until November to apply for the status and then prove that they were farm workers for at least 90 days between May 1985 and May 1986.
The other 19 aliens are claiming the same status, Dickman said.
"We will give them the benefit of the doubt and let them apply for it," he added. "They have the opportunity to come up with the documentation to prove it later."
Border Patrol officials and state troopers learned that the 22 aliens hailed from Oaxaca, Mexico, near Acapulco. All apparently entered the United States illegally in January 1985.
Four of the 22 are females, and the group ranges in age from 15 to 43. Most are in their mid-20s.