TIME Magazine's Report
On The Mexican Invasion
'Border Clash' - TIME Magazine
By Tim McGirk Douglas
June 26th, 2000
'Border Clash' - TIME Magazine By Tim McGirk Douglas June 26th, 2000 > A few years back, when Mexicans would stagger out of the desert onto Helen Hoffman's cattle ranch, her family would set up a card table for the parched visitors and give them gallons of water, grub and maybe a few days' >work.
But not anymore. Every morning now, when her husband Robert checks the cattle on their 500-acre spread near the border at Douglas, Ariz., he sees "heads poppin' up all over in the mesquite bushes," says Helen. Several times, bands of illegal immigrants tried to steal their pick-up and break into the Hoffmans' house under the tall cottonwoods.
A few nights ago, Robert, 84, had settled in front of the TV when he had the prickly sensation that somebody was watching him. He looked up and saw four pairs of eyes staring through the window. It took a while for Robert, who is still recovering from a triple coronary bypass, to fetch the shotgun now kept by the door, and by that time, the prowlers had vanished. Since then, Helen seldom ventures into the yard, even in daylight, without her >9-mm pistol.
>"I'm no racist. Why, I have a Mexican daughter-in-law," says Helen, 78, a stocky woman with the tenacity of a snapping turtle. "But we have a major invasion happening in this country, and nobody seems to give a damn."
This anger against the growing flood of 1 million illegal immigrants a year is rising fast among independent-spirited, gun-toting residents in the borderlands of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Over the past three years, the number of illegals streaming across the border has remained constant. They come from Mexico, where a third of the people live on $2 a day or less, and from other countries where poverty, national disasters and political upheaval unleash an exodus of refugees. Since the early 1990s, the border patrol has partly sealed the California frontier with its operations "Hold the Line" and "Gatekeeper." But they did not deter the illegal immigrants and their "coyote" smugglers for long.
Instead, the crackdown has driven them into the Southwestern deserts, where much of the land adjacent to the unfenced U.S.-Mexican border is privately owned by ranchers and rural residents. It is these people, like the Hoffmans, who are on the front line of the Clinton Administration's losing battle to secure America's southern frontier.
For many Americans who believe citizens have the right to defend their property and privacy with firearms, these ranchers are true patriots, doing a job the government is too weak-kneed to carry out.
Ranchers such as Roger Barnett from Douglas, who boasts of capturing illegals on his property--his record is 170 in a day--have become the heroes of anti-immigration activists around the country. Such groups as the American Patrol and the California Coalition for Immigration Reform often liken the ranchers in their literature to the Minutemen of the American Revolution.
But that propaganda can also carry a nasty edge. Flyers circulated in Douglas by an "R.U.A. Freeman" offer volunteers a chance to join in "ole western individualism" and help ranchers nab aliens. Envoys from the Ku Klux Klan put in an appearance last month at a town meeting in Sierra Vista, Ariz., hoping to offer solidarity but were chased off by locals who don't want their cause, which they see as a pragmatic one, tainted by zealots and adventurers who seem to want to hunt down poor Mexican families for sport. "I get three or four calls a week from volunteers--damned if a lot of 'em aren't women--from all over the country," says Barnett, 57, a rugged, athletic man in blue jeans. "But I tell 'em they'd do better by writing to their Congressmen."
Not surprisingly, the ranchers' militancy is provoking a Mexican backlash. Two weeks ago, Carlos Ibarra Perez, a retired oil worker in >Reynosa, across the line from Texas, announced a $10,000 reward for the first person who kills a U.S. border-patrol agent. In the ensuing uproar, Ibarra withdrew his bounty, but it shows the depth of hostility growing between the U.S. and its neighbor.
This "red alert" issue, as the Mexicans see it, was raised in Washington talks last Friday between Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon and President Clinton. Both men agreed to tighten their side of the common border. Says Mexico's Foreign Secretary Rosario Green: "This is racist behavior that violates all international rules."
The conflict is becoming deadly. So far this year, three immigrants have been killed and seven others have been wounded in showdowns on the U.S. side of the border. Violence has come as the days get warmer. On May 14, Mexican Eusebio de Haro, 22, was shot in the groin and left bleeding to death after he and a companion approached a rancher near Bracketville, Texas, pleading for a drink of water. Near the Arizona border town of Sasabe, Miguel Angel Palafox, 20, had eluded the border patrol on May 21 and was heading north through hills covered with saguaro cactus--his dream was to reach Phoenix--when he was spotted by two horsemen dressed in black.One of them pulled out a rifle and shot Palafox in the neck. The youth wrapped his shirt around the wound and crawled back to Mexico in 115[degree]F heat. "I thought I was going to die in the desert. There wasn't a single tree for shade," says Palafox.
Once across the Mexican border, Palafox dragged himself another mile before reaching a farmhouse, where he got help. The two riders have yet to be found. Along the 80-mile stretch of border in Arizona's Cochise County, there have been 25 incidents since April 1999 in which armed private citizens rounded up dozens of suspected illegals. Most of these actions involved rancher Barnett and his brother Donald, 54, who patrol a 22,000-acre spread about four miles from the Mexican border. It's mesquite country, with sparse grass and sandy creeks that are perfect trails for the coyotes and their clients, who pay $800 apiece to reach Phoenix, $1,500 to Chicago.
Along the way, says Roger Barnett, they cut fences and let out cattle, deliberately break water pumps and litter the pasture with garbage that chokes the cattle. Sometimes the coyotes and drug smugglers crossing through are armed. "Out here," says Cochise County sheriff Larry Dever, "any rancher would be a fool who isn't prepared to defend himself." But the sheriff insists that so far, no "vigilante action" against the illegals has taken place in Cochise.
With his binoculars, an M-16 automatic rifle and his sheepdog Mikey, Barnett sometimes tracks a group of illegals for miles, following their footprints in the sand and bits of clothing snagged on the mesquite thorns. In the summer it's harder for his dog to track them; the incandescent heat sears away their scent. "They move across the desert like a centipede, 40 or 50 people at a time," says Barnett. Once he catches them, Barnett radios the border patrol to cart them off his land. "You always get one or two that are defiant," says Barnett, who chuckles, remembering an incident a few weeks back. "One fellow tried to get up and walk away, saying we're not Immigration. So I slammed him back down and took his photo. 'Why'd you do that?' the illegal says, all surprised. 'Because we want you to go home with a before picture and an after picture--that is, after we beat the s___ outta you.' You can bet he started behavin' then."
Such antics have made Barnett a lot of enemies on both sides of the border. He is demonized as a vigilante bogeyman by the Mexican press, threatened with criminal charges by Hispanic human-rights groups in Tucson, Ariz. And the U.S. Attorney's office in Tucson is keeping a file open on Barnett for possible prosecution, according to police sources. Barnett has to watch his step in other ways too. Across the border in Agua Prieta, a dusty boomtown of cheap hotels, cantinas and shops specializing in plastic >water jugs and can openers for the illegals' desert odyssey, Barnett is considered bad for business. More than 1.2 million illegals--Mexicans, Central Americans, Chinese and a smattering of Europeans--poured through here last year.
Yet during May and June, the number of aliens wanting to cross has fallen considerably, and some coyotes think this may be Barnett's fault; his notoriety has spread throughout Mexico. As a result, many illegals are heading west, to Nogales, Ariz. In the Azueta plaza where the coyotes meet their pollos (chickens), the smugglers say a bounty has been put on Barnett's head. Barnett was warned of these threats by the Cochise sheriff but says, "I'll just watch my back and keep doin' what I think is right."
In Tucson, border patrol officials predict that the number of apprehensions this year will beat last year's record high of 470,000. Still, for every illegal who is caught, at least two others slip through to jobs in the U.S. that nobody else wants, as meatpackers, fruit pickers, gardeners and motel Chambermaids. Even feisty ranchers like Barnett admit that one way of keeping trespassers off his land is to legalize entry to more immigrants. "If we decide we need them for jobs, it should be through a legal port of entry--not across my land," he says.
The other option, one favored by 89% of Arizona residents, according to a recent poll, is to enlist the military's help in patrolling the border. But Douglas Mayor Ray Borane thinks this would raise tensions between the U.S. and Mexico and lead to more deaths. "Do we really need troops down here to fight ladies coming through with infants in their arms?" he asks. The U.S. military is barred by a post-Civil War law from taking on civilian law-enforcement duties except in a national emergency. Unless Washington lawmakers decide either to get tougher with illegal immigration or to fill the labor force by opening the frontier gates a little wider, the U.S. ranchers will keep up their rough sport with their unwanted trespassers.
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