The Border Patrol appears on the verge of declaring victory in its campaign to control illegal immigration along our border with Mexico. It says that for the first time since 1989 it will arrest fewer than one million people crossing illegally this year. Apparently, the Border Patrol hasn’t been listening to the residents of Cochise County, Arizona, who share an 84-mile border with Mexico. Maybe that’s because Tucson sector officials recently disbanded a Citizens Advisory Board, after it became too critical of the Patrol’s failure to stem the flood of illegal crossings in their county.
The Border Patrol’s strategy has focused on erecting barriers along heavily traveled sectors of Mexico’s border with Texas and California. The overall effect, however, has been to channel illegal immigration into Arizona. Barriers were erected at Arizona entry points at Nogales and Douglas to push illegal crossers into areas the Patrol thought would be easier to monitor and control.
That strategy has clearly failed. Good numbers are hard to come by, but the Border Patrol says that it apprehends about one in five illegal crossers. Over a six-month period it says that it apprehended 160,000 illegals; if true, that means nearly 650,000 made it across safely. Local ranchers believe that only about one in ten are caught, meaning that nearly 1.3 million make it across. Obviously the Patrol has been unable to successfully interdict the steady streams of illegals that ranchers see crossing their property almost nightly.
The ranchers have photographed illegal aliens in groups of forty or fifty moving along established trails, complete with way stations. The way stations are stocked with food and water, sometimes supplied by local high school kids recruited and well-paid by the coyotes who lead these groups. Each morning the ranchers police up debris from the previous night’s crossings: water bottles, half-eaten food, discarded clothing, human waste, and sometimes prescription medicines and syringes.
Border crossers are nothing new for the ranchers, but they noticed a change in the character of the groups in the mid-1990s, which they say has turned Cochise County into a “no man’s land.” Drug smuggling is rampant; the ranchers report men wearing black ski masks, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, escorting others carrying backpacks presumably loaded with marijuana or cocaine. Drug smugglers have been blamed for the recent killing of a National Park Service ranger and a spate of other shootings along the border.
Formerly believed to be mostly Mexican, locals think these groups are now composed of largely Central and South Americans. These OTMs (Other Than Mexicans-a formal Border Patrol category) have been more prone to vandalism and have also proven more violent in encounters with local ranchers. Equally worrisome, the ranchers report growing numbers of Middle Eastern, Asian, and South Asian groups crossing their lands.
Although congressional reports label these sightings “unconfirmed,” the Border Patrol has apprehended Yemenis, Egyptians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, and Iranians. One rancher photographed a group of Indian nationals apprehended by the Border Patrol; another reported the presence of 35 Iranians in his front yard one Thanksgiving Day morning. The Arab crossers reportedly pay well and often travel in vans, which are then abandoned when they reach their destinations.
But the numbers don’t begin to tell the real story of the impact on Cochise County. The county has experienced increased lawlessness, severe health care and environmental consequences, and the destruction of property values. The locals fear that previously eradicated diseases and viruses that are unknown locally are passing through the area. Local health care professionals lack training to make correct diagnoses, but Border Patrol agents now wear latex gloves and face masks due to the increasing number of detainees with obvious afflictions. One local hospital has closed its long-term-care ward and virtually all maternity/child care services in the County have been closed due to the uncompensated emergency care dispensed to injured or sick border crossers. Local business and tourism suffer.
The uneven application of the Border Patrol’s strategy has created a nightmare for the residents of Cochise County. When the national media covers the story, it focuses mostly on the travails of illegal border crossers, while local ranchers are demonized as gun-toting, racist vigilantes. Cochise County ranchers want the U.S. military to guard the border until the Border Patrol can effectively assume these duties, but the White House resists this due to “cultural and historic reasons.” Both political parties are hoping for a large Hispanic turnout in upcoming elections and fear alienating potential voters. Meanwhile, tensions in Cochise County continue to grow.