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NY Times Bemoans Illegal Alien “Hardships”

Get out your handkerchiefs.

From the "Paper Of Treason," the New York Times:

With a Border Patrol helicopter buzzing overhead, a Mexican father and son, Raúl and Samuel Calderón, tried to hide. After walking four days in desert heat, they were captured by the Border Patrol in Arizona.

At Unforgiving Arizona-Mexico Border, Tide of Desperation Is Overwhelming

By GINGER THOMPSON

ARIVACA, Ariz., May 18 — All the talk in Washington about putting walls and soldiers along the border with Mexico did not stop Miguel Espindola from trying to cross the most inhospitable part of it this week with his wife and two small children.

Their 6-year-old daughter, Karla, clutched her mother’s back pocket with one hand and a bottle of Gatorade with the other as the family set out across the Sonora Desert on Thursday. Miguelito, 7, lugged a backpack that seemed to weigh almost as much as he did.

"Yes, there is risk, but there is also need," said Mr. Espindola, explaining why he had brought his children on a journey that killed 464 immigrants last year, and a 3-year-old boy this week.

Looking out at the vast parched landscape ahead, Mr. Espindola, a coffee farmer, talked about the poverty he had left behind, and said: "Our damned government forces us to leave our country because it does not give us good salaries. The United States forces us to go this way."

Here at ground zero for the world’s largest and longest wave of illegal migration, about the only thing that is clear is that easy answers do not apply. During a drive along a narrow highway that runs parallel to the line, it is hard to see how increased law enforcement and advanced technologies will stop an exodus made up predominantly of Mexicans willing to risk everything.

Meanwhile, it becomes easier to understand the conflicting attitudes about migrants that have not only strained relations between the United States and its neighbors to the south, but also tested America’s identity as a melting pot.

In the last five years, Arizona has become the principal, and deadliest, gateway for illegal migrants. It accounts for nearly one-third of the 1.5 million people captured for illegally crossing the border last year, and nearly half the migrants who died, according to the United States Border Patrol.

Those figures have inspired competing responses.

After the 3-year-old boy was found dead this week in the desert, some local law enforcement authorities called for charging his mother, Edith Rodriguez Reyes, with reckless endangerment. The authorities at the Mexican consulate here said Ms. Rodriguez was a victim of smugglers and demanded that she be released.

The mesquite-covered landscape here was a base for the Minuteman militias, who have threatened to take the law into their own hands in defense of America’s southern border.

It is also home to so-called border Samaritans, who scour the desert in search of migrants in distress to deliver water, medical attention and, sometimes, advice on how to avoid detention.

"This is a token deployment of unarmed and grossly inadequate numbers of National Guardsmen," a Minuteman spokeswoman, Connie Hair, told The Arizona Daily Star. Ms. Hair said the troops would be placed in the "same demoralizing position as the Border Patrol, outmanned and outgunned against international crime cartels."

Jim Walsh, a volunteer with the Samaritans, was not optimistic either, but for different reasons. "With this president and this Congress," he said, "it’s not going to be too humane."

Worried about the enormous drain on taxpayers, voters here passed a ballot initiative intended to limit immigrants’ access to public services. Meanwhile, economists like Marshall Vest at the University of Arizona said the illegal immigrants were an important source of labor for the booming construction and tourism industries that had helped make Arizona the second-fastest growing state, after Nevada.

When Mr. Bush deploys an estimated 6,000 National Guard troops to the border, it is expected that most will be sent here in an effort to seal off the desert. So this is likely to be the place where the successes and failures of the policy will unfold.

Arizona has been hurt by "bad immigration policies," said Laura Briggs, an associate professor of women’s studies at the University of Arizona, and a member of the border Samaritans. "There is a long tradition of hospitality in the borderlands, and this rising death toll is stressing everybody out."

Those conflicting interests, and growing frustrations, come to life on Arivaca Road, which runs about 14 miles west of Interstate 19, on the way to Sasabe, Mexico.

Once a bucolic settlement of horse and cattle ranchers, the area around the highway has been overrun, according to residents, by illegal immigrants who move in groups of up to 80 at a time, and up to a thousand a day in the peak winter season. Residents must also contend with the buzz of Border Patrol agents in trucks and helicopters.

Frank Ormsby, a rancher, and his brother, Lloyd, said that after living for more than a decade in the middle of the buildup of the Border Patrol and the growing waves of immigrants, they were just plain sick of all of it. There are more backpacks littering the desert than rocks, they said, and enough money is being spent on equipment for the Border Patrol to rebuild New Orleans.

To them, illegal immigration is a huge business managed by powerful interests to make money and political careers. Among the beneficiaries, Frank Ormsby said, were immigrant smugglers, whose fortunes increased every time a new law enforcement effort was announced, and the Border Patrol, whose budget has increased fivefold in 10 years.

"There are so many agents they could stand hand-in-hand across the border and stop illegal immigrants if they really wanted to," said Mr. Ormsby from beneath a wide black cowboy hat. "The money we are spending on the Border Patrol, in gas, in equipment, in technology, what do we have to show for it?"

"I see so much waste," he added. "Ray Charles could see it."

A couple miles down the road, two sunburned men, their clothes tattered and their lips severely chapped, look the image of needy. Raúl Calderón, 60, and his 22-year-old son Samuel, had been walking in the desert heat for four days.

Natives of the western Mexican state of Michoacán, they said they had been abandoned by the smuggler — known among immigrants here as "coyotes" — they had hired on the second day of their journey.

On the third night, the men said, they lost track of the 10 other people traveling with them in the darkness. And by the fourth morning, they had run out of food and water.

"Our government has forgotten about us," the father said. Then nodding toward his son, he added, "Each generation stays as poor as the last."

Mr. Calderón said his native town of Churintzio had been nearly emptied by migration to the United States. He himself had gone back and forth across the border for much of the last two decades. But he said he had spent the last five years in Mexico, trying to start his own restaurant.

His son, on the other hand, had made enough money working in restaurants between San Antonio and Corpus Christi to return to Michoacán and build a home. Now the two of them were off to the United States again to seek more work, this time in California.

Mr. Calderón said he had heard that President Bush "is going to give work permits, and so I have come to get one."

He would not, however, get one this day. Border Patrol helicopters buzzed overhead. A few minutes later came the trucks. And without much of an exchange, Mr. Calderón and his son were taken away.

"It’s like saying we’re going to stop crime," said a Border Patrol spokesman, Gustavo Soto, when asked whether the presence of the Guard would stop undocumented immigrants from coming. "It’s hard to say that we will be able to stop all people from coming across the border. But we can achieve better control."

On the Mexican side of the border, Mexican immigration agents said they felt helpless in stopping the immigrants, even though the law prohibits citizens from leaving through unofficial ports.

Hundreds of people, carrying backpacks and gallon jugs of water, filed into the desert on Thursday. Among them, were Karla and Miguelito, neither one of them more than four feet tall.

In a speech cut short so that the migrants could be on their way before sundown, Mario López, an agent in Grupo Beta, a Mexican government agency that seeks to protect the migrants, advised the men, women and children about the dangers of their illegal journey and advised them of their rights in case they were apprehended by the Border Patrol.

"This is a sad reality," he said. "We hate to see our people leaving this way. But what can we do, except wish them luck."

Gosh, the United States is mean.

(By the way, longtime Freepers will recognize the name of Connie Hair.)

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Sunday, May 21st, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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