This article appeared as the cover story in the July/August issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe, please click here.
IN EASTERN AND CENTRAL ARIZONA the border between the United States and Mexico runs in a straight surveyor’s line through mile after mile of scrubland. It is a vast and empty terrain punctuated by barren mountains that rise sharply above the desert. The international line is marked only by 19th century obelisks of concrete or iron, standing just a few feet high in the desert brush, spaced at intervals of 0.14 to 4.91 miles. The only indication of the border between the markers is a fence strung by ranchers to keep cattle from straying and a rough dirt road that runs beside it.
By day the countryside is quiet. Dust devils occasionally swirl upward and spin furiously across the creosote plain, and tumble weeds lifted by sudden gusts of wind sometimes sail over the border fence and bounce on the dirt road before bumping into the cactus and desert brush on the other side.
But when the sun sets, the quiet landscape comes alive. Groups of migrants emerge from the mesquite and the arroyos where they have hidden all day to avoid detection from aircraft. They put on their backpacks and pick up their water bottles, then head north. Many walk only as far as pre-arranged points along a country road where smugglers pick them up, sometimes in stolen or hijacked vehicles, then race at high speeds in the dark with their lights off.
Many others walk for miles into the interior where they can continue in comfort to their final destination, which may be anywhere within the United States, for once beyond the border American authorities have no further interest in them. All along the way on the U.S. side of the border one sees trash of all kinds littering the route of this vast migration.
Dave Stoddard lives just north of the border near the San Pedro River, the route the Spanish explorer Coronado used in 1540 when he entered what would 308 years later become a part of the United States. Today it is one of the many routes of mass migration northward.
Stoddard says that Americans living near the border and those who live in the interior along the favorite routes of migration complain of a constant crowd hurrying past their homes all night long, especially between 1:00 and 3:00 in the morning. Residents have put locks on their houses, their barns, and their out-buildings. They have built fences and installed motion sensor lights, and have posted guard dogs that bark all night long in order to gain a sense of uneasy security. For with a massive uncontrolled migration passing by your back door night after night you never know who will come to rob and assault you, especially since desperate men transporting drugs sometimes travel with the passing migrants.
Husbands and wives cannot go out for an evening together unless they have someone to watch the house while they’re gone, and since the distances are great in the borderlands — the minimum time of response for a 911 call to the sheriff is around 30 minutes — everyone is armed. Men wear sidearms at work and mothers put handguns in their purses when they walk their children to the school bus. The elderly say they feel like prisoners in their own homes.
Then on the first of April 2005 the migration came to a sudden halt. From the town of Douglas to the tiny settlement of Naco, and from there all the way to the other side of the San Pedro River some 40 miles to the west, the nocturnal movement ceased. Dogs no longer barked all night long, and people said they had not slept so well in years.
The reason: the presence of a small group of civilian volunteers called the Minutemen who mounted a month-long vigil to demonstrate that, with proper vigilance, the stream of illegal migration could indeed be stopped. The project, organized by Chris Simcox of Tombstone, Arizona, and James Gilchrist of Southern California, was based on the neighborhood watch model, a civilian association whose function, according to the Neighborhood Watch Institute, is to provide “eyes and ears for law enforcement.”
If any law enforcement agency needs this kind of help it is the United States Border Patrol. Since March 2003 the Border Patrol has been a part of the Department of Homeland Security with the revised mission of preventing terrorists and terrorist material from crossing the border — this on top of its already demanding mission of interdicting drug smuggling and the control of illegal immigration, tasks made all but impossible by the massive stream of illegal migration pouring across the border.
Border Patrol union president T. J. Bonner, of the National Border Patrol Council, rightly observes: “Even if a terrorist is one-in-a-million occurrence, with several million people coming into the country each year, very soon they reach that critical mass necessary to carry out another attack on the magnitude of September 11. This is totally unacceptable from the standpoint of homeland security and national security. We should gain control of our borders.”
After 9/11 George Bush called for public participation in homeland security. Yet when asked about the Minuteman Project, President Bush bristled, calling the volunteers “vigilantes.” Though poll after poll reveals that the public wants the government to bring illegal immigration under control, the President is content to keep things just the way they are since it creates the de facto amnesty he has promised Mexican president Vicente Fox and that he has been unable to pass through Congress.
The “eyes and ears” of citizens on the border is the last thing Bush and the Mexican government want. The Mexican elite regard the massive exodus from Mexico as a safety-valve that protects their own privileged position; as a cash cow for Mexico in the form of remittances to the tune of $14 billion each year, the second largest source of income for Mexico after oil; and as a potential means for manipulating the American political system (as frankly revealed by such Mexican leaders as former President Ernesto Zedillo and former national security advisor and later U.N. ambassador Adolfo Aquilar Zinser).
In order to avoid unwanted publicity, the Border Patrol assigned 500 more agents for quick response to reports from Minutemen of illegal movement. The Mexican government likewise dispatched police, as well as Mexican army troops, by one estimate 1,600 strong, to their side of the border to dampen potentially damaging publicity because of the presence of observers on the American side of the line. Soldiers interdicted would-be border crossers, loaded them into trucks, and transported them to points along the border where they could cross illegally into the United States beyond the eyes and ears of the Minutemen.
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