Last April, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, and the state became the focus of a furious controversy over immigration enforcement. The media coverage was formulaic – out-of-town reporters flew in, got a quote from a Minuteman, another from an outraged protester, took a picture of the fence, and were on the 8 p.m. flight back to civilization.
Leo W. Banks is the antidote to such drive-by journalism. A long-time Arizona resident, Banks is a former reporter for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and now covers the border for the Tucson Weekly. He has written on a variety of topics for dozens of publications over the course of his career, including the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Traveler, Arizona Highways, and Sports Illustrated. He has also published several books on the history, culture, and geography of the American southwest – an area that has captivated him for much of his life.
While writing about life in southern Arizona during the late 1990s, Banks began to notice the impact of illegal immigration. The human and drug smuggling networks, violence, and environmental devastation soon became unavoidable. But few journalists were willing to chronicle these historic events. His intimate familiarity with the people and places of the state, combined with the skills of a storyteller, enabled him to write about Terrie and Glen Stoller, a couple of snowbirds chased off their land in a dangerous smuggling corridor north of the border; and Jason Kane, a homeowner who won't let his children play alone in the yard because of the danger of violence; and rancher Jim Chilton, who no longer carries a cell phone while checking his fences for fear that he'll be shot by smugglers if they think he's reporting them to the Border Patrol.
In a profession that prides itself on heterodoxy, few had the courage to challenge political convention. Banks was one of those few. His journalistic talents and tenacity have given us invaluable accounts of the upheaval taking place on the Arizona border. For this reason, the Center for Immigration Studies has chosen Banks as the recipient of the 2011 Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration.
This award is named in memory of Eugene Katz, a native New Yorker who started his career, after Dartmouth and Oxford, as a reporter for the Daily Oklahoman. In 1928, he joined the family business, working as an advertising salesman for the Katz Agency, and in 1952 became president of Katz Communications, a half-billion-dollar firm which not only dealt in radio and television advertising but also owned and managed a number of radio stations. Mr. Katz was a member of the Center for Immigration Studies board until shortly after his 90th birthday in 1997. He passed away in 2000.
Previous winners of the Katz Award are listed at http://www.cis.org/KatzAward.
The Center for Immigration Studies is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute which examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States. It is animated by a pro-immigrant/low-immigration vision, but offers the Katz Award not to promote any point of view but rather to foster informed decision-making on an issue so central to America’s future.
Center for Immigration Studies
June 3, 2011
Copyright 2009 to 2011, Leo Banks. Reprinted with Permission.
Illegal immigrants dump tons of waste in the wilderness every day, and it's devastating the environment
By Leo W. Banks
The Tucson Weekly, April 2, 2009
Remember Robert Fulghum? He became famous in 1988 with a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It was a pop-culture hit, a little wise, a little goofy, one of those books that finds its moment, and bam! The whole country knows about it.
I've been thinking about Kindergarten lately, and the trash dumped on our borderlands by illegal aliens. The connection isn't as tenuous as it might seem, and I'll get to it in a moment, along with a modest proposal to deal with this huge problem.
First, a question: Have you had your holy-smokes moment yet regarding our illegal-immigration crisis? If not, travel to Arizona's border region, and go off-road to the game trails, mountain passes and grassland flats that make this area so magical.
In many places, the magic is gone, lost beneath piles of garbage.
If such a trip is impossible, look at the pictures accompanying this article. They should provide a jolt, a visual boot to the backside, after which you'll proclaim, "Holy smokes! I had no idea!"
Most people have no idea. These images should be beamed around the country so everyone can understand Arizona's crucible.
How much trash has been dropped since this invasion began? Try 24 million pounds, from the Colorado River to the New Mexico line. The federal Bureau of Land Management made that estimate in 2007 and called it conservative. The agency uses a formula of eight pounds of trash dropped per day, per person.
Based on this, we can look at certain federal lands and understand the extent of the pileup. For example, at the peak of traffic in 2004 and 2005, the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge near Sasabe, southwest of Tucson, was getting 2,000 crossings a day, and that translates to 16,000 pounds of trash a day.
In the early 2000s, the Tohono O'odham Reservation was getting 1,500 crossers daily and 12,000 pounds of trash. The tribe now has workers who march out several times a week to do cleanups, says Gary Olson, administrator of the tribe's solid-waste program. Between September 2004 and December 2008, his workers removed 106 tons.
But aren't arrest numbers down? Fewer crossers mean less garbage, right?
Yes, although nobody should be jumping for joy. In the 262-mile-wide Tucson sector, the number of crossings has gone from ridiculous to merely intolerable.
In 2005, sector agents made an average of 1,205 arrests a day. Last year, the number was down to 870 daily, which translates to 7,000 pounds of trash.
But remember: Those who get through outnumber arrests by at least 3-to-1. So the real figure is probably closer to 21,000 pounds dropped ... every 24 hours.
In the sheer numbers of people, this is a historic migration, far bigger than the 1848 California gold rush and those grubby, gallant, greedy gold rushers also gave this land a good thrashing.
As the conservation scientist Gary Nabhan tells me, the garbage being left behind today will scar our state's landscape into the 22nd century.
But there is good news, too. Serious cleanup efforts are underway. In January 2007, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality launched a cleanup campaign targeted at nonfederal lands within 100 kilometers of the border. Since then, working mainly with volunteers, the state's Undocumented Migrant Waste Program has collected 56 tons of trash, in areas such as those along the Santa Cruz River near Tubac and Tumacacori, on ranches around Arivaca, and on private land near Douglas.
In December, ADEQ joined the Borderlands Management Task Force, a consortium that includes federal land managers, tribes and state agencies, to coordinate a border-wide Arizona cleanup.
Its goals, according to Frank Zadroga, manager of Environmental Quality's UDM waste program, include launching a Web site, probably by fall, which will serve as a one-stop data hub. It will also collect citizen tips about the location of dumps, which are being found in ever-more remote and sensitive areas.
The Bureau of Land Management has been the major player in picking up garbage on the border since 2003. That year, the agency began its Southern Arizona Project, designed to fix the widespread environmental damage done by illegal aliens and drug smugglers.
The agency doles out taxpayer cash, more than $5 million since 2003, to private and government groups to do this work, and trash collection is part of it. BLM spurs the pickup of about 230,000 pounds a year.
All of this signals hope. Pride of place and home is important, and the emphasis on volunteers brings together people who, even if they agree on nothing else, can agree that our borderlands should be restored to their pre-invasion beauty.
Understand the difficulty of the task. The amount of trash still littering Arizona's landscape tops by several times the amount that has been picked up, says Kathy Pedrick, who administers BLM's project.
In addition to being in remote areas, these dumpsites are also high-crime zones. After all, drug smugglers often use the same trails as people smugglers. The best routes into our country are bought, and the cartels don't like anyone mucking around on land they've paid good money to control.
Another problem: ADEQ officials say the sites can be contaminated with bio-hazardous waste. What else might be in these dumps? Are communicable diseases present?
The accompanying photograph to the left shows a site below Diablito Mountain, 5 miles west of Interstate 19 and 21 miles north of Nogales. Illegals reach this wash after emerging from the Tumacacori Mountains, which are also trashed out. The litter at Diablito, on state land, was so solid that you could walk a half-mile without your feet touching the sand. In border-speak, the site is called a layup.
When illegals prepare to meet their pickup rides, they often drop everything to better squeeze into getaway vehicles. They switch from hiking clothes into street clothes, and off they go, to Los Angeles, Fargo, N.D., Lewiston, Maine, and everywhere in between. The majority of the trash is backpacks, clothing, food cans, toothpaste, toys, water bottles.
But the Diablito site, like dozens of others, includes piles of human feces, tampons, medicines, syringes and even used condoms.
"If a sick person discards a medicine bottle, anyone picking it up might be exposing himself," says veterinarian Gary Thrasher, who travels the borderlands daily in his work. "You see guys joking around, picking up clothes and hats from these dumps and wearing them. I don't know what they're thinking. People are coming across from down in southern Mexico, and there are lots of problems you can run into, including cholera."
The health risk makes land managers leery of using volunteer cleanup crews, says Keith Graves, former Coronado National Forest district ranger in Nogales, and now the border liaison between the forest and the Secure Border Initiative.
"It's hard to find volunteers we feel comfortable with," he says. "We have them sign agreements, and that basically makes them federal employees. So if they get injured, we pay for it. We can't control what they pick up."
Some blame the Border Patrol for pushing illegals, and therefore trash, farther out into previously undisturbed land. That has happened on national forest land and on Tohono O'odham land, where illegals, because of increased enforcement, spend more time and probably drop more trash.
"The more the cats will play, the more the mice have to hide," says Olson. "There are a lot more cats now."
Olson acknowledges the trade-off, but says he's grateful for Border Patrol help, which, coupled with a declining economy, has brought the number of crossings on the reservation down to an estimated 200 to 300 a day.
Even so, on the reservation and elsewhere, we're still talking about lots of people and vehicles. Smugglers load trucks with people or drugs and drive into the country, destroying vegetation and natural springs, and causing serious erosion. On some of our borderlands, enforcement has cut down these drive-throughs.
Officials in the Buenos Aires, for example, used to find 100 smuggler vehicles a year on its land. But manager Mike Hawkes says new fencing has cut that number dramatically. "Last year, we had one," he says. Those vehicles, when abandoned, become a form of litter.
But the problem hasn't been eliminated, and much damage has already been done in the introduction of nonnative seeds, especially buffelgrass. (See "State of the Desert," March 5.) It is widespread in Sonora and enters our country on the wind, on water and on the clothing of the millions of illegals who've already passed through our deserts. It also enters on the tires of smuggler vehicles. The seeds drop in the desert, germinate and grow rapidly. Buffelgrass forces native plants to compete for moisture and space, and it has introduced fire as a major player in the Sonoran Desert.
In the past, fires rarely produced big blazes in the desert. But today, if illegals don't extinguish their cook fire, or they set a fire to distract law enforcement and then abandon it, two common events, the result can be a runaway fire fueled by buffelgrass. These fires kill plants and trees that set up the desert's entire regeneration process, and the potential impact is huge.
"We have preliminary evidence that fire changes the whole structure of desert habitats," says Nabhan, now with UA's Southwest Center. "Once a fire moves through, it knocks back the nurse trees and permanently alters the desert's capacity to heal itself.
"This isn't hypothetical. We're seeing it from Hermosillo, Mexico, north in a million places."
Prowling these border dumps provides the equivalent of a graduate-level seminar on what illegal immigration really is, and as importantly, what it's not. No critical national issue attracts more lame thinking, a good example being the woman who told the Douglas Dispatch in January that border trash tells stories of "hardship and hope." A visitor from Iowa, she ventured out with a church group to help ADEQ in a cleanup.
I admire her civic spirit. But she's delusional. The hardship is mostly self-imposed, and there is no hope in garbage.
We know the crossers are a religious bunch, because of the Catholic medallions, statues and Bibles they drop, and we know they're superstitious. The litter almost always includes garlic cloves: Illegals hang them from backpacks in the false belief that the scent will keep rattlesnakes away from their campsites.
Some call illegal aliens "undocumented," but the truth is they have documents falling out of their pockets, literally. Examine the ground, and you'll find driver's licenses, birth certificates and passports, most of them forged.
From the PokÈmon backpacks, diapers and infant formula, we know the crossers include children. But their debris is often mixed with tequila bottles and pornography. Another item sure to boil the blood: Spanish-language books advising illegals on their rights in the United States.
Less common, but surprisingly present, is evidence that our border has become an international crossing.
As I've reported previously in these pages, we know Arabs are coming, from the discovery of three prayer rugs near Douglas and an Arabic diary inside a backpack in Hereford. In 2004, a rancher west of Fort Huachuca answered his door to greet a female illegal wanting to use the phone. The call was to Libya.
A while back, I got an e-mail about a pair of Russian night-vision goggles found near Sonoita. Best guess? They were probably left by drug smugglers. Anna Magoffin and her husband, Matt, who live east of Douglas, found a scarf marked with the word Kaibil, the name of Guatemala's special forces. The Border Patrol has found machetes and brass knuckles at border dumps, as well as a bulletproof vest more sophisticated than what our troops in Iraq use. The vest, pictured here, is strong enough to repel multiple rifle shots.
Agents also collect statues and necklaces honoring Mexico's legendary narco saint, Jesus Malverde. Drug dealers pray to him before bringing their poison into our country. They're helped by scouts hiding out on mountain tops. At one such lookout, agents found a two-way radio powered by a motorcycle battery, and this, in turn, was rigged to a solar panel the size of a computer screen.
Consider, too, the ugly reality of the rape tree, often found at dump sites. The coyotes who lead groups into the country will sometimes peel a woman out of the group, rape her and hang her panties from a tree as a kind of trophy. The rape tree pictured here was part of a massive dump in the heavily trafficked Altar Valley.
As the Border Patrol's Mike Scioli says, the underwear is a message to the next coyote coming along, who is, after all, a co-worker of the first one.
"It's like saying, 'Look what I did, guys. Now let's see what you can do,'" says Scioli.
But a site as big as the one pictured might contain anything. This one also had strips of burlap used to wrap marijuana bundles, black masks with holes for the eyes and mouth, and a day planner listing a series of phone numbers, including one for coyote Rosa Lima.
When I ask land managers and ecologists about the impact of this trash on wildlife, on water quality, on our deserts overall, the answers are hedging and elusive, with good reason: Little hard research has been done. "I know everybody is worried about it, but nobody has really studied it," says Thrasher.
It probably won't be studied in the near future, either. The reason, in part, says Nabhan, is our government's emphasis on security, which has made it difficult to actually get to the border. He used to walk from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in Southwest Arizona, into Sonora to work.
"If you want to do that now, Homeland Security sends your passport back to Washington," Nabhan says. "Our ability to work on the border has really been knocked back. Even if you get a permit, it's dangerous to be out there."
The agency that would do such studies, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, has not done them because of the danger. "We haven't looked at these questions directly, mostly because we're afraid to put our biologists into these areas," says Gabriel Paz, a law enforcement program manager for Game and Fish. "There are too many border bandits."
But the silence of the big environmental groups plays a role, too. They should be hollering from tallest buildings about border trash, but they aren't. Making too much noise might turn off the open-borders liberals they rely on for donations. However, many individual environmentalists have done great work as volunteers, through hiking clubs, hunting clubs and other organizations, to clean up the messes.
So politics and the border war conspire to keep us in the dark on border trash.
But scientists know any omnivore that smells food will poke around in it, which explains why garbage has been found in the stomachs of bears and deer. "We know wildlife is chewing on this stuff, but we don't know the effects," says Darrell Tersey, natural resources specialist at Ironwood Forest National Monument, north and west of metro Tucson.
In one case, though, the effects are not in doubt: When a cow ingests a plastic bag, it can clog the stomach, and the animal usually dies in agony. These bags now blow across our borderlands like tumbleweeds.
Last fall, Wendy and Warner Glenn found a sick calf on their ranch near Douglas. It was standing with its forehead against a tree, grinding its teeth in terrible stomach pain. The vet, unsure what was wrong, primarily treated the animal for the pain, after which the Glenns brought it home.
But when they went out to the corral the next morning, the calf was dead. Wendy and Warner butchered the animal to learn the cause and discovered a yellow plastic bag blocking portions of its stomach. "It could've been suffering for several days before we found it," says Wendy.
Cattle also eat clothes. "I've seen cattle eating clothing to get the salts, and gone back later and found the cow dead," says Keith Graves.
The desert tortoise is particularly susceptible to the ill effects of alien trash. These critters live in rocky wash banks heavy with vegetation and shade, the same areas where illegals lay up. And the tortoises are slow to reproduce, meaning any knock-back in its population will take a long time to replenish.
Officials at the Ironwood, where 3,000 pounds of trash a year are removed, some left by local citizens, suspected such a population decline and studied the question in 2002. Results were inconclusive. But the authors cited the observation of a longtime resident who has seen fewer tortoises since illegals began using the area in such big numbers.
This fellow also has encountered aliens carrying desert tortoises, and so have staffers at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, both in Southwest Arizona. The reason? Probably to cook and eat.
Curt McCasland, manager at the Cabeza, says they've also found the shells of five tortoises among the litter at trash dumps. "We don't know if the trash killed the tortoises, or if the migrants consumed the tortoises," says McCasland. "We're not sure what's happening. We're too busy monitoring the impacts of illegal immigration on our wilderness areas and haven't had time or money to study tortoises."
As for the water supply, it would seem to be especially vulnerable, because these trash dumps are often found at water sources. Some ranchers have reported their wells are contaminated with fecal bacteria, likely the result of so many illegal aliens defecating near water sources. But this issue, too, needs more study.
On national forest land, says Graves, the contamination of wells is less of an issue than the fouling of drinking water for wildlife, such as at open stock tanks. "The contamination there is very high," he says. Open stock tanks are pits in the ground, usually associated with a stream system. Illegals and animals gather at the tanks and defecate, and when it rains, the waste gets into the tanks, creating sewage-like conditions in summertime.
"If you fill a water bottle at one of these tanks, it has more protein in it than a protein shake because of the animal and human fecal matter," says Graves.
There's one additional issue these dumpsites clarify: Illegal immigration into Arizona is just a vast border-area problem, correct?
Not even close. A lot of the trash pickup at the Ironwood takes place on trails threading around Silverbell Mine, 75 miles north of the line. BLM has cleaned alien layups in metro Phoenix and, incredibly, in the Agua Fria National Monument, 40 miles north of central Phoenix.
Illegal alien trash dumps can also be found within the Tucson city limits. Want to see one? Drive east from downtown on Interstate 10, exit at Wilmot Road, and turn left. Follow Wilmot for 1.4 miles; turn left onto the dirt path, park and follow the garbage.
Some of it, on the fringes, is urban trash left by nearby residents. But if you walk back toward the interstate, or west toward the Pima Air and Space Museum, the ground overflows with clothes, backpacks, water bottles and plastic trash bags, which illegals use as raincoats.
When groups hole up here waiting for their pickup rides, they're aided by locals who make money delivering food and drinks. The evidence is all over the ground, in discarded pizza boxes, Kentucky Fried Chicken tubs and soft-drink containers.
The area looks as if it has been carpet-bombed.
The challenge now is not just to maintain cleanup efforts, but to intensify them. It's necessary, because the illegals are still coming, and we can even expect the flow to pick up in the future, thanks to two decisions by Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C., regarding the E-Verify program. This Internet system, which checks information from a prospective worker against data from the Social Security Administration, is the fairest, most effective method employers have of ensuring that new hires are legally OK to work in the United States.
But President Obama, who supported E-Verify while campaigning, and the Democrats stripped E-Verify from the stimulus package, meaning companies getting stimulus money aren't required to use the system.
Funding for E-Verify runs out in September. Anyone want to guess whether the Democrats will reauthorize it? Don't bet on it.
The message this sends is obvious: If you're living here illegally now and need work, or are considering jumping the border tomorrow to find work, the gringos are again winking at their own laws. When the economy picks up, expect crossings to pick up, too, with all of the attendant troubles, including more trash.
But restoring our borderlands, our beloved home, is not impossible. It will take work and persistence, as well as an appreciation of one undeniable, timeless and ultimately redemptive premise: If you drop something, you should pick it up.
The Border Patrol has agents keep garbage bags in their vehicles, and after making arrests at a layup, they sometimes hand the bags to the illegals and tell them to get busy. It's a great idea. But the concept needs an expansion, and that dovetails nicely with my proposal: Every day, near heavily crossed areas, the Border Patrol keeps buses ready to haul away the day's arrest harvest. The illegals are processed through law-enforcement computers and often pushed back into Mexico. Before doing that, shouldn't we put them to work? With the buses already there, it wouldn't require a huge effort to force them to clean up their own mess.
It's one of the bits of wisdom that made Fulghum's book a hit: All we need are trash bags, stick-spears and the proper amount of righteous indignation. It'll make kindergarten teachers everywhere smile.
Chico and the Monkey
How many times were a border coyote and his accomplice captured and released by law enforcement? Would you believe 35?
By Leo W. Banks
The Tucson Weekly, September 17, 2009
A new security safe is the most potent symbol of Louie and Susan Pope's life today. It cost $750, and when the couple goes for an after-supper walk, or on a dawn horseback ride in the Chiricahua Mountains, they load it up with household valuables.
Susan puts her purse inside, as well as jewelry, small electronics and handguns. Even though they live about 30 miles north of the border, the Popes can no longer lock their doors, take off and trust that their possessions will be there when they return.
It's one of the indignities suffered by residents north and east of Douglas along the Chiricahua Corridor. (See "The Chiricahua Corridor," Sept. 11, 2008.) Beginning in the winter and continuing through June, residents on the Arizona and New Mexico sides of this heavily trafficked smuggling route have experienced a surge of home break-ins by cross-border smugglers.
The tiny bird-watching town of Portal, on the east slope of the Chiricahuas, has become a major hub within the corridor. A watchful resident estimates that there have been about 100 burglaries around town in the past five years. But hard numbers are difficult to acquire, in part because many residents don't report incidents for fear of losing their insurance. The situation has created a tinderbox of emotion in this part of rural southeast Arizona.
The Popes feel the impact throughout their lives, not just at home. Susan works as a bus driver and teacher at the Apache Elementary School, a one-room schoolhouse with a teacherage beside it. It sits on Highway 80, 35 miles north of Douglas, and serves six students. Since 2005, these structures have been broken into seven times, all when the kids and the two employees have been gone.
The glass windows have been busted out so often, they've been replaced with Plexiglas. All the valuables once kept there, like a camera and a DVD player, have been stolen. In 2007, officials built a fence around the school, but the thieves jump it. An alarm was installed in June this year, costing $500, plus $60 a month, but the school keeps getting hit.
"Sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry," says Susan. "Americans shouldn't have to live like this."
As for the Popes' new safe, they bought it after a March 17 break-in at their home near Portal. For safety reasons, the Tucson Weekly will not name the canyon in which the Popes live. They also declined to be photographed.
The home burglary was the Popes' third, which, in this area, almost makes them sweepstakes winners. A close neighbor claims to have been hit 17 times, with the last burglar leaving a spray of blood over the home's interior when the thief sliced an artery after breaking a window.
Many of these crimes are committed by what locals call south-bounders, drug mules and coyotes who run loads up to Portal, 46 miles above the border, then turn around and head back to Mexico. The number of south-bounders has skyrocketed as drug-smuggling has increased. They're a dangerous breed, young, often gang members, sometimes desperate for food, and on the hunt for whatever they can steal to convert to quick cash.
Due to vast distances and law-enforcement response times that can range up to two hours or longer, these thieves often get away.
But they didn't in the Pope break-in. The coyotes responsible were caught and prosecuted. Louie and Susan, who grew up in the area, raised their kids there and wouldn't dream of living elsewhere, agreed to talk about the episode in hopes that something will change. It's a brave decision. But they're fighting for something they cherish, their way of life.
The story they tell opens a window on the world of alien- and drug-smuggling, and the criminals who operate within it. It also shines a light on a system that fails citizens in multiple ways, the most maddening being the number of times these crooks are set free to strike again.
The Weekly has learned that prior to the Pope burglaries, the two men responsible had been released by law enforcement and the courts at least 35 times between the two of them.
"The people are gut full of this," says Louie, an unpretentious retiree whose manner and straw cowboy hat speak to the years he's spent working on ranches, as well as for the U.S. Forest Service in southeast Arizona. "It isn't mainly workers anymore. It's dopers and bandits, and we're seeing a lot more weapons. I really expect to get death threats from this, but we have the opportunity to tell an important story about what's happening out here, and we need to do it before something bad happens."
Louie and Susan discovered the March 17 burglary at about 8:40 a.m. when they returned from their horse corrals. The thieves came in through a bedroom window. They stole $100 from Susan's wallet, two sets of Bushnell binoculars, an MP3 player, a cell phone, some jewelry and coins, and they ate food from the refrigerator. Total loss: $700.
But the thieves also broke into the Popes' new Dodge pickup, which the couple had brought home three days before. They busted the door handle with a screw driver and tore apart the steering column trying to steal it, doing $3,000 in damage.
"If they'd just waited, we would've fed and watered 'em," says Louie. But now he was mad and wanted his stuff back. Louie, who probably knows the Chiricahua range better than any man alive, grabbed his 30-power Bausch and Lomb spotting scope, used for hunting, and hurried to a nearby mountaintop.
"This mountain is the closest place I could get altitude and start glassing," says Louie. "After an hour, I saw them walking near the mouth of Horseshoe Canyon." He radioed the location to sheriff's deputies and Border Patrol. It was just before noon.
One of the thieves, later identified as Luis Arturo Ventura Chico, from Agua Prieta, Sonora, across from Douglas, gave up quickly. The second was 26-year-old Saul Martinez Morales, also from Agua Prieta. He's nicknamed Chango, in English, monkey, and he showed why: He bolted straight up the mountainside and kept running, easily outpacing Border Patrol agents, who later returned empty-handed and completely drained.
"This guy Chango was like a man from hell," says Louie. "He went clear over the top of that mountain in less than 15 minutes, through some hellacious country."
Later, at 4:30 p.m., Louie reached a second vantage point, a mile south of Horseshoe on Sunrise Road, overlooking the entire San Bernardino Valley. Within 15 minutes, he spotted Chango again. The goal of Border Patrol and sheriff's deputies was to get ahead of him. "But it was hard, because this guy was moving so fast," says Louie. He sat atop Sunrise until dark watching Chango make his mad dash to the border, fearing he might get away.
But pursuers caught a break at 8:30 a.m. on March 18.
About 10 miles south of Horseshoe, two cowboys out checking waters spotted a man running south along a dirt road. Thinking he was trying to go for help, they approached and asked what he needed. But the man wasn't in the mood to chat. He said he was headed to Mexico and kept moving swiftly south.
The cowboys rode back to ranch headquarters, still unaware of the break-in at the Popes and the manhunt for Chango. But a ranch employee, the wife of Louie's brother-in-law, filled them in on the excitement, and the cowboys, who still hadn't unsaddled, rode back out to see if the man fit Chango's description. He did.
This time, the cowboys stayed with him as Border Patrol closed in. It wasn't quite a chase, but the cowboys weren't going to let him out of their sight. Chango ran through brush and along roads, moving so swiftly that the cowboys had to trot their horses to keep up. When he was on roads, the cowboys trotted alongside him, one on each shoulder.
Twice, Chango darted at the horses to scare them, and he jabbered at the cowboys most of the way, cussing, threatening and pleading with them to go away. He kept saying to the older cowboy, "Come on, man, let me go back. Go take care of your cows." At one point, Chango jumped a barbed-wire fence, turned and taunted the cowboys, saying, "Bad luck for you. I'm behind a fence." One of the cowboys pulled wire cutters from his jacket, held them up and said, "Bad luck for you. I'm cutting the fence."
This went on for six miles. Chango got within a mile of the border near Geronimo Trail east of Douglas, and the Border Patrol arrested him there about noon. He'd traveled 25 miles in 28 hours, yet, as the cowboys said, he was barely winded. But they did see him pick up a discarded water bottle, with murky, brownish water inside, bring it to his lips and chug it.
"He reached down," said one cowboy, "grabbed it without breaking stride, chug-a-lug, and the water came running out of both sides of his mouth. He made a face like it didn't taste too good and threw the bottle down. He had to have a thirst on."
At their request, the Weekly is withholding cowboys' identities and the name of their ranch.
But Chango still had the energy for one more getaway. While being hauled to jail in a Border Patrol truck through downtown Douglas, he reached out a rear window, grabbed the outside door handle, jumped out and raced toward the Mexican line. He sprinted 16 blocks and was close to hopping the border fence when agents nabbed him, Pope said.
But the crimes these men committed didn't have to happen in the first place. They should've been in jail already.
The Weekly has learned that at the time of the Pope break-in, Chico had three prior arrests for alien-smuggling, on June 8 and July 22, 2008, and on Jan. 2, 2009, according to a law-enforcement source. All took place around Douglas, and each time, instead of being prosecuted, Border Patrol pushed him back into Mexico.
It's called voluntary removal, and it's a sweet deal for crooks, but lousy for American citizens.
When Border Patrol arrests an alien near the border, they take their name and fingerprints and run them through computers. If the individual can't be linked to a current crime, other than illegal entry, a federal misdemeanor, and if he isn't wanted for a serious past crime, he gets a sandwich and a free trip back to Mexico. Illegals taken into custody in most areas around Douglas get up to 12 arrests before they're charged with entry without inspection. If, on the 13th arrest, they're taken before a judge and found guilty, they're formally deported. If caught entering the country after a formal deportation, they're charged with a felony.
The system, which Border Patrol is working to change, creates a revolving door in which agents arrest the same people again and again, often on the same day. According to agency spokesman Mike Scioli, of the roughly 317,000 aliens arrested in the Tucson Sector last year, 17 percent were prosecuted, and that's actually a big number, considering the amount of resources it takes to prosecute a single case.
Of the 83 percent not prosecuted, some were put through one of the alternative programs the Border Patrol has established to cut the number of voluntary removals. The majority, however, were pushed back into Mexico. "We can't prosecute them all," says Scioli. "Due to the influx of traffic here, the court system really can't handle that load."
But how could a coyote win release three times for alien smuggling, a felony? Scioli declined to comment, saying the matter is "too sensitive" to discuss. "It would actually be illegal for me to talk about it," he said.
Sandy Raynor, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona, also declined to discuss individual cases.
Retired agent Zack Taylor, a former supervisor of Border Patrol's prosecutions unit, says it's not that unusual for coyotes to be set free, and there could be multiple reasons, the Border Patrol being unable to arrange transport and arraignment within the required time limit, the unwillingness of swamped U.S. attorneys to take what can be viewed as low-priority cases, and a lack of detention space.
"Some days, I'd go to muster at 6 a.m. and see a message from U.S. Marshals or Tucson detention that they had no bed space and weren't taking any prosecutions," says Taylor. "So you catch a guy, do the paperwork, document him as a smuggler and walk him out the front door back to Mexico."
Taylor said he sometimes got three or four good, prosecutable cases in a day, even criminal cases, and had to turn them loose. Often it had to do with what the system could handle. "Sometimes, you had to weigh which case was most important and cut the least important because of the amount of paperwork involved and other factors," says Taylor.
But think of the damage a crook can do with 12 arrests, that's at least 12 chances to sneak into the United States to break into houses, steal trucks, run drugs and people, wreck property, frighten citizens, set forest fires and foul the landscape with trash.
In a post-arrest interview with Cochise County sheriff's deputies, Chico admitted to the Pope burglary and said he and Chango had been leading a group of 14 illegals toward Portal, and ultimately Phoenix, when the Border Patrol jumped them. He said he was paid $900 to help lead the group.
And he went further, saying he'd previously led 15 to 20 groups north, again, all felonies. The shoes he wore bore the sign of a practiced smuggler; they were several sizes too large, a common tactic to throw off trackers. Asked where he got them, Chico said: "Well, I bought these shoes from a gang member in Agua Prieta for 250 pesos."
When the deputy asked Chico how many times he'd committed burglary, he seemed insulted, saying, "I'm not a burglar. I'm a coyote. But this is my first time."
We know by these arrests that Chico had been in custody at least three times. But the number rises to four if we count the traffic ticket he received from Douglas cops in early June 2008, according to court records. He was cited for speeding, having no license, no ID, no registration and no insurance, strong indicators he was in the country illegally. He could've been arrested for not having ID and the likelihood he'd abscond without paying his fines, but Douglas police couldn't confirm for the Weekly whether or not that occurred.
It's likely Douglas handed him to Border Patrol and Chico got his first voluntary removal.
Needless to say, his traffic fines have gone unpaid.
But Saul Martinez Morales, the man known as Chango, makes Chico look like a rank amateur. While in custody in Maricopa County in 2007, he told authorities he'd been arrested and voluntarily removed from the United States an astounding 27 times.
The Weekly has also learned, through law-enforcement sources, that Chango had been formally deported on June 29, 2007. Later that same day, he was arrested again for transporting aliens back into the country. In Chico's police interview, when asked what Chango did for a living, Chico said: "He smokes marijuana, but mainly he smuggles illegal aliens."
Information gleaned from court papers state that Chango is a longtime drug and alcohol abuser. He told authorities he began drinking at age 8, and has been smoking marijuana daily and snorting coke monthly since he was 14. But he said he had recently quit booze and coke.
At the time of these statements, made to Maricopa County authorities in August 2007, he'd been living illegally in Phoenix for 10 years, but he'd recently been laid off from a $500-a-week construction job. He has a long criminal past. In Phoenix on June 6, 2007, police spotted Chango driving slowly past a known drug house. After he made an illegal lane change, police confronted him at a Circle K and tried to arrest him for not having an ID.
But Chango bolted as he was being cuffed, starting a wild chase down alleys, through backyards and over fences, according to police reports. When pursuing cops approached him, he tried to force his way into a private home by pushing on the front door, as the terrified homeowner pushed back from inside. Even though surrounded by cops, Chango wouldn't submit until they used a Taser on him.
He was booked for two felonies, escape and criminal trespass, and then released on his own recognizance. When the inevitable happened and he failed to appear in court on June 21, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
After that June 29 arrest for alien smuggling, which, following a formal deportation, should've resulted in a felony charge, Chango must've been released again, because the following month, he was back in Phoenix leading police on another chase.
It happened July 21. He was driving a stolen Ford F-250 pickup when a cruiser pulled in behind him, and before police even turned on their lights, he jumped out and ran. Chango hid under a parked car and resisted commands to come out; this time, police had to use pepper spray to subdue him. He was booked for auto theft, another felony.
Prosecutors combined these cases, and on Aug. 10, Chango pleaded guilty to criminal trespass and one count of felony theft. He got three months in county jail and 18 months of probation. He was ordered to pay $1,995 to the owner of the pickup for damages he caused and reimburse the owner's insurance company for more than $9,000.
But Chango wasn't done yet. On Oct. 18, 2007, while still in jail, he was hit with a money-laundering charge dating to June 2003. According to the Arizona Attorney General's Office, he used an alias and a fake Social Security number to obtain $9,400 in Western Union transfers. State investigators suspected he was moving far larger sums as part of people- and drug-smuggling operations.
Given the time that had passed and other factors, the state didn't have enough evidence to charge him with those crimes. This time, Chango pleaded guilty to a single felony count of money laundering. In February 2008, he was sentenced to four months in Maricopa County jail and three years of probation. He was ordered to pay $9,400 to the Attorney General's anti-racketeering fund.
In his sentencing report, Assistant AG Todd Lawson wrote that probation was appropriate, because this was Martinez Morales' "first state-level offense." Knowing Chango would be deported to Mexico after his jail term, Lawson insisted on three years of probation, the maximum allowable, to deter him from again entering the country. If caught re-entering within that time, he faced potential prison for the probation violation. "The state's sincere hope," wrote Lawson, "is that the result of this sentence is that the defendant does not return to the United States."
Not a chance. Not only was Chango released without reimbursing the owner of the truck in the felony theft, without reimbursing the insurance company, and without paying his state fine for money laundering; he went right back to his old line of work, smuggling, which is how he wound up at the Popes' bedroom window.
Like Chico, Chango did a lot of talking to a Cochise County deputy after his arrest. He admitted to the break-ins, described how they were done and even talked about the sandwich he stole from the Pope's refrigerator. "It was bacon and cheese, and it tasted all right," he said. Chango also said he found a yellow wallet belonging to the Popes and was asked if he took money from it. He replied: "Well, if there was any money in it, I would have taken it, too. I only had $33 on me."
Chango also said that months before he broke into the Pope's truck and home, he also burglarized the Apache School. He did $200 damage and stole a number of food items, including sugar cubes, because "he'd never seen sugar in cube form before." After this admission, and after all of his other arrests, charges and probations, Chango made a startling remark that speaks volumes about his lack of fear of our laws: "I hope all this doesn't hurt me. I just want to be sent back to Mexico."
This time, he didn't get his wish. Last Friday, Sept. 11, in Superior Court in Bisbee, he pleaded guilty to the Pope burglaries and was sentenced to six years in prison, with a requirement to serve 85 percent of it. With his history, Martinez Morales faced 11 to 20 years, but Deputy County Attorney Gregory Johnson made a deal, saying he didn't want to "risk taking the case to trial and seeing a jury set him free."
The Popes were pleased with the result.
In the Chico case, however, the Popes are fuming mad. Right now, he is back in Mexico after claiming to be 17 years old, thereby winning a favorable sentence in juvenile court in Sierra Vista.
But there's reason to suspect Chico lied about his age.
After his arrest, law enforcement began processing Chico to send him to the Cochise County jail in Bisbee, meaning they thought he was an adult. Adults go to the Cochise County Jail, while juveniles go to the Juvenile Detention Center in Sierra Vista. But the destination changed when Chico suddenly claimed to be a juvenile. To settle the matter, a call was made to his mother in Agua Prieta, and she gave his birthdate as Dec. 11, 1991, which would make him 17, and off to juvenile he went.
But Chico has a habit of being confused about when he was born. In each of his three prior arrests for alien smuggling, he gave different birthdates. Sources say he used Dec. 11 all three times, but the year changed, from 1988 to 1989 to 1991.
The options available to judges dealing with juvenile defendants from Mexico are narrow, at best. The defendants can either be sent to juvenile prison here, or turn-styled back to Mexico. But the latter effectively means no punishment, because the juvenile is then beyond the court's supervision.
At a hearing in Sierra Vista on April 28, Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Ann Littrell said she wouldn't send Chico to juvenile prison, fearing the impact that contact with such a population might have on him. But she wanted to hold him for a time in the local juvenile jail, during which he could earn money in a work program and repay the Popes. Littrell initially considered a 30-day sentence. She upped it to 60 in response to complaints by the Popes and 15 frustrated citizens of Cochise County who attended the hearing.
When she issued the sentence, however, Littrell was unaware of Chico's prior arrest record and his use of multiple birthdates. While he was still in custody, the Weekly informed Littrell of these facts and asked if they merited re-opening the case, perhaps to obtain better evidence of his birthdate. After all, if Chico is an adult, the judge had no jurisdiction in the case.
"It's not something I'm going to pursue," said Littrell. "Luckily, judges don't have to go out and enforce the law." Based on the call to his mother and Chico swearing in court to being 17, Littrell expressed confidence the court had the correct date, and she might be right. But the odds aren't good. Chico had three shots to give law enforcement his correct birthdate, and we know he lied at least twice, maybe all three times.
After serving 60 days, Chico was sent back to Agua Prieta, but probably not to his mother's home. According to court documents, the mother told juvenile-court authorities that her son was living with his girlfriend, a 35-year-old woman, and the mother didn't approve of the relationship and didn't want her son returning home.
Those 15 citizens of Cochise County left the courtroom in agreement that 60 days is better than 30, but still not enough. They were also certain Chico won't be deterred by his probation terms. One requires him to notify his probation officer within 30 minutes of entering the United States. When Littrell read that aloud, a disgusted grumble passed through the gallery as they imagined Chico, the veteran coyote, leading yet another group, stopping just over the U.S. line and saying: "Would you folks mind waiting a sec? I'm supposed to call my probation officer."
Another probation requirement was for Chico to write a letter of apology to the Popes. He never did. Another was to repay the Popes $750 from his jail work. He didn't do that, either, until the Weekly notified Littrell of that fact on Aug. 4, weeks after his release. Within two days, the Popes got a check for $453. But they're still short $297.
It gets worse. After the sentencing, Louie talked with Chico's probation officer about setting up a meeting with Chico. Louie wanted to ask where he ditched the Popes' binoculars, cell phone and jewelry so he could try to find them. The probation officer told Louie he was busy and asked Louie to get back to him. Louie later left a message with the probation officer to set up a meeting, but he never called. Rather than keep trying, Louie dropped the matter in frustration. "I didn't push it too hard. But it's the point of the thing, not the money," he says. "Don't just blow me off."
"I'm mad," says Susan. "The court did not hold Chico accountable."
As for the Popes' response to the news of 35 releases, Louie says, "It just blows us away. But at the same time, we're not surprised." For years, he and Susan have watched local, county and federal agencies try to cope with the border crisis, rarely communicate with each other, and mostly flail around against these smart and fast-moving criminal operations. And Louie doesn't believe his family's nightmare is over.
Chango is gone for several years, and that's a good breather. But there are many others to take his place, and they'll continue making life a misery for residents of the Chiricahua Corridor. The Popes count Chico among them. "I'm sure he'll be back leading groups past our house again, if he hasn't already," says Louie. "The best thing for him would've been to sit in jail for a long time to think about what he did."
But these cross-border criminals have learned not to fear the system; it doesn't deter. The result is a kind of Groundhog Day in which the same bad guys keep committing the same crimes. This has created a corrosive cynicism among law enforcement, who often see the men they arrest turned loose, and among overwhelmed prosecutors, who lack the money and time to take cases to court.
In the middle stand citizens just trying to live their lives in a 21st century frontier.
Cochise County Attorney Ed Rheinheimer says he understands the severity of the situation, especially in Portal, and admits law enforcement is playing catch-up there. But he says his office is trying to respond. "If we can aggressively prosecute a few of these cases, we might be able to deter some of this and accomplish something for the people of Portal," says Rheinheimer. "We know they've been suffering."
That response stems from work done by people like the Popes and others who don't wish to be named. They've met with Cochise County officials, the Border Patrol and the U.S. Attorney's Office to describe the siege conditions under which they live and agitate for help in the fight to win back their way of life.
The effort has paid dividends. Louie says the Cochise County Sheriff's Office and Border Patrol have cracked down the past two months, easing the scary wave of break-ins that occurred during the winter and early summer. But calm on this border is usually just calm before another storm.
"Law enforcement has proven that if they keep a presence here, they can shut down a lot of this stuff," says Louie. "But if it gets slow, and they pull out, the trouble will come right back again."
From February through the end of June, residents of the Chiricahua Corridor suffered through break-ins and drug incidents with regularity. The Weekly has compiled a list of incidents, but it is partial. From the start of this year through May, for instance, Bill Wilbur had nine break-ins at his rental house, but only one is listed here. Other victims are not named to protect the privacy of an already nervous population:
Feb. 27: Attempted break-in at a residence 5 miles south of Portal. Alarm drives off thieves.
Feb 27: Break-in at Apache Elementary School. Digital camera and food stolen. Saul Martinez Morales pleads guilty.
March 17: Break-in at the Popes' house near Portal. Stolen items and truck damage almost $4,000. Martinez Morales pleads guilty.
April 30: Thirteenth break-in at ranch east of Arizona line in Peloncillo Mountains. $750 worth of tools stolen.
May 3: Break-in at Wilbur's rental east of Portal, near New Mexico state line. Thieves are so hungry that they try to boil birdseed in a pot on a stove to make it edible. Nine men are arrested, several carrying marijuana backpacks.
May 3: Break-in at Apache Elementary School. Administrators vow to install alarm system. Damage: $100.
May 5: Break-in at residence in Apache, near Geronimo Surrender Monument. Burglars leave freezer door open; all food spoils.
May 6: Break-in at residence on Rock Springs Road, just off Highway 80. Food stolen.
May 8: Break-in at residence off Sulphur Canyon Road south of Portal. Thieves steal two automatic pistols.
May 15: Attempted break-in at a ranch in Rucker Canyon. A rancher sitting on a toilet sees men staring in a window at him.
May 15: Eighth break-in at cabin in Rucker. Nothing left to steal.
May 18: Break-in at teacherage next to Apache Elementary School. Nothing left to steal. Damage: $138.
May 18: Break-in at residence at mouth of Horseshoe Canyon near Highway 80. Thieves kick in front door, steal clothes, and food.
May 27: Break-in at residence on Sunrise Road, 10 miles south of Horseshoe Canyon.
May 28: Break-in at residence east of Horseshoe Canyon. $800 in cash stolen. Thieves leave filthy clothes piled on floor.
June 9: Commercial trailer found parked 100 yards from Apache Elementary School on Highway 80. Inside, Border Patrol finds 2,000 pounds of marijuana. Value: $1.7 million.
June 18: Break-in at Apache Elementary School. Nothing left to steal. Damage: $100.
June 19: Break-in at residence on Sanford Hill, 4 miles south of Portal.
June 22: Four drug mules arrested at Stateline Road.
June 24: Homeowner off Sulphur Canyon Road south of Portal sees six drug mules walking near his house. Law enforcement arrives. Five captured.
June 30: Break-in at residence in Portal. Thieves throw rock through window and try to steal a truck.
Threats and Degradation
A congressman uncovers two buried studies showing the impacts of illegal immigration, smuggling
By Leo W. Banks
The Tucson Weekly, December 10, 2009
The federal government's border fence has been called the Tortilla Curtain. But in the swamp of border politics, there's a more effective barrier at play, one that filters ideas rather than people. It explains why most Americans still don't fully understand the disaster on our southern border.
This tortilla curtain is propped up by much of the major media, activist groups and cheap-labor-addicted businesses, big and small. They're all spinning us, for their own reasons.
But the list includes the feds, too.
More than anything, bureaucrats want to convince you of the great job they're doing. If the facts say otherwise, they'll sanitize, sugar-coat and sometimes suppress, which a Utah congressman believes has been the case with two blockbuster studies, 7 and 5 years old, that have never seen daylight, until now.
The Bush administration's Department of the Interior did both. They were intended to measure the impacts of illegal immigration and drug-smuggling on Interior Department-managed lands in Arizona.
The first, from 2002, was a threat assessment for such places as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the Tohono O'odham Nation.
It concluded the threat was great indeed, both from the surge of aliens and drug smugglers who are "decimating public resources," and from the invitation the open border offered terrorists.
The study said bad guys could easily cross into Arizona using established trails and a pre-existing labor pool of $10-a-day mules who "do not care, or want to know, what they are smuggling."
The second study, from 2004, looked at how the open border impacted Sonoran Desert wilderness in southwest Arizona, mainly Organ Pipe. This picture was equally grim, for the land, for endangered species and for the whole concept of border wilderness.
Both studies noted that the Border Patrol policy of blocking entry around cities and border ports pushed this illegal activity into remote areas.
All of this sounds like information a good citizen would need to decide how to vote, and a good lawmaker would need to make wise policy. So why did Bush, and then Barack Obama, try to bury both studies?
The wilderness study in particular was handled oddly. It was presented at a 2004 meeting of a borderlands managers' group of public officials who gather regularly in Tucson to talk about border issues.
Fred Patton, one of the study's authors and former chief ranger at Organ Pipe, made the presentation. No one in the room was given a hard copy of the content.
Even these hardened public lands officials were taken aback by what they heard.
Former Forest Service district ranger Keith Graves, who was at the meeting, remembers Patton saying that if someone asked him whether Organ Pipe was an appropriate place for a national monument today, he'd say no.
According to Graves, Patton added the wilderness at Organ Pipe had been so degraded less than 10 percent still met that designation.
"We thought this study was going to be great to show the impacts," says Graves, now a liaison between Forest Service and the Secure Border Initiative. "But we never heard about it again."
Congressman Rob Bishop, ranking Republican on the Parks and Public Lands Subcommittee, first heard about the desert wilderness study in April, and began asking the Obama administration's Interior Department for a copy.
It finally came, after 10 weeks, when Bishop gave the study's verbatim title to the Interior Department. He says he was stonewalled and sees the delay as a pattern that makes him mad as hell, search YouTube for a video of Bishop haranguing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The Tucson Weekly tried to find out why these studies were never released and got the same treatment.
Daniel Wirth, who did the threat assessment, said his study was "law-enforcement sensitive," and it apparently still is. When pressed with more questions, Wirth said he needed permission from his bosses at the Interior Department, where he's southwest border coordinator for law enforcement and security. But that permission didn't come.
Patton, who still works for the Interior Department, didn't respond to two e-mails. Lee Baiza, superintendent at Organ Pipe, said he's never seen the wilderness study documenting the degradation of the land he manages.
"I've heard reference to it," he said. "But I never saw it ... not that I can recall." Asked if he wanted to see it, Baiza said flatly, "No. A lot of things have changed. We're moving forward."
Kendra Barkoff, press secretary to Salazar, repeated Wirth's "law-enforcement sensitive" claim, adding, "This took place before our time here."
She added that the department under Bush had not followed up on the studies, and that the department under Obama has no plans to do so, either. She said the studies aren't newsworthy. "I don't think it comes as a surprise terrorists can come into the country any way they want to," said Barkoff. She told the Weekly to call the Department of Homeland Security.
As Bishop wrangled with Interior to get the wilderness study, he also acquired the threat assessment. His reaction to both?
"I was flabbergasted," says Bishop. "I could not imagine any situation as dangerous and threatening to this country as what we're seeing along the border, especially in Arizona. Any country, to be sovereign, has to at least control its land. You cannot turn over areas to drug cartels, with the potential of terrorists coming through, and that is the situation we have on the southern border."
Significantly, he added: "We've received no information that the threat potential is markedly different today."
Bishop believes we are sacrificing public lands on the border to the wilderness designation. By restricting Border Patrol's access to border wilderness, we effectively turn these lands over to bad guys, leading to their degradation. He made that case in The Washington Times on Nov. 16.
The issue is relevant, in part because of a proposal to make the Tumacacori Highlands, near Nogales, a wilderness. These events also are evidence of how nothing much changes. Back in 2004, at roughly the time the Interior Department was producing these studies, David Aguilar, head of the Border Patrol, met with reporters in Laredo, Texas, and declared the border secure.
He's still the Border Patrol chief today. Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano recently came out with a similar declaration.
Perhaps Janet Napolitano should visit the Peck Canyon Corridor outside of Nogales, with an armed escort
By Leo W. Banks
The Tucson Weekly , November 25, 2010
From the idyllic shelter of Peck Canyon outside of Nogales, Edith Lowell reflects on what it's like to share her beloved ranch with violent drug-smugglers, illegal aliens and automatic-weapon-toting bandits.
Her opinion might surprise.
"We actually feel safe here at the house, I guess because anybody who is a bad egg has always gone on by, and we hope they keep doing it," she says. "But we know we have to keep our eyes open. We've been lucky. Poor Mr. Krentz wasn't so lucky."
For borderland residents living with the spillover from the Mexican drug wars, luck is a necessity, a commodity to be prized above all others, because it can spell the difference between a good day in paradise and a very bad one.
Rob Krentz was working on his ranch near Douglas in Cochise County on March 27 when he ran into the wrong person and was shot to death. The killer, his identity and motive unknown, is still at large.
Krentz lived in an area, the Chiricahua Corridor, that has been pounded by illegal aliens and drug-smugglers for years. The crossers are growing ever more aggressive, with break-ins, home invasions and late-night phone calls threatening retaliation against citizens fighting to shut down drug routes on their land. The federal government was ineffective, even condescending, until finally, shots were heard around the country.
Something eerily similar is happening in another part of Arizona's border, the place Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says is "largely secure."
Call this increasingly dangerous smuggling route the Peck Canyon Corridor.
It begins west of Nogales, at border-crossing points stretching from the Pajarito Mountains and the Pajarita Wilderness all the way east to Cobre Ridge. It crosses Ruby Road and climbs into the Atascosa Mountains. From there, at more than 6,000 feet, the corridor follows the drainages down into Peck Canyon, which divides the Atascosas from the Tumacacori Mountains. Virtually all of this is Coronado National Forest land, where Americans go to hike, hunt and camp.
But for David and Edith Lowell, the land is home. Since 1975, they've lived on the Atascosa Ranch headquartered in Peck Canyon, 11 miles from the Mexican border.
"As far as I'm concerned, what Napolitano is saying is a flagrant lie," says David, 82, an explorer and geologist. "We have the misfortune of living on a very active smuggling route, and in the past year, we've had five shootings on my ranch, including a Border Patrolman. It annoys me the government can't stop these crimes from happening right under their nose. I'd say it's gotten significantly worse for us, rather than better."
Jason Kane, who lives on the edge of the forest four miles south of the Lowells, says the situation at his house, in Agua Fria Canyon, has calmed down since August. But from January through July this year, he heard gunfire coming from the national forest on a regular basis, some of which could've been hunters.
But on at least four occasions, Kane has heard what he's sure were gunfights involving one fully-automatic weapon firing, and another pumping back return fire. He has also seen ultra-light airplanes swooping over the mountains at night to drop drug loads, and he calls law enforcement often enough to keep the phone numbers of the Border Patrol and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office affixed to the family refrigerator.
Like the Lowells, Kane says he feels generally safe right around his home, although his wife, Clair, does not, but the children aren't allowed to play in the yard unless one parent is watching. Kane added he felt compelled to speak up in spite of possible danger, because the public needs to know, and other Tucson media have shown no interest.
As for venturing beyond his property onto the national forest west and north of his home, Kane won't do it, and he advises hikers and hunters to stay away. "I grew up riding all over this country," says Kane. "I've gone back into places most people will never know about. But I'd never go there again by myself. Only with a group, and only if I was armed. That's flat-out. I mean, this craziness of the border being secure is a joke."
The Nogales International newspaper (which, like the Tucson Weekly, is owned by Wick Communications) has been ably chronicling the disturbing violence occurring in the Santa Cruz County backcountry, usually by assailants carrying automatic weapons and wearing black or camouflage. On June 18, the paper reported there had been more than 50 borderland robberies, assaults and shootings since April 10, 2008, including nearly a dozen people shot, with three killed.
But the number has risen since June. Including all of 2008 and going through mid-November of 2010, there have been almost 70 such episodes reported to the county, says Lt. Raoul Rodriguez, head of criminal investigations for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office. "There are probably many more out there that go unreported," says Rodriguez.
It should be noted that while these incidents occur in the Santa Cruz boondocks, the settled areas of the county haven't experienced a major uptick in crime. In most categories, crime in the county between 2008 and 2009 either stayed the same or dropped, according to FBI statistics. A notable increase came in violent crimes, the number of episodes rising from 5 in 2008 to 18 in 2009.
The figure for 2010 is expected to be down, says Rodriguez, in spite of the Oct. 18 discovery of a body in a shallow grave on a ranch near Tubac. Javier Adan Mendez-Celaya, an illegal alien from Sonora, had been shot multiple times in what investigators believe is a drug murder. No arrests have been made.
In Nogales, itself, crime dropped in all but one major category in the same period. In addition to more than 60 of its own officers, Police Chief Jeff Kirkham says the city is home to 800 working federal agents, from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other agencies. "We have more law enforcement per capita than anywhere in the state," says Kirkham. "For the average citizen, the average person visiting, Nogales is absolutely safer than Tucson."
But in the remote areas east and west of the city, the much-feared spillover from the Mexican drug wars is occurring. Most troubling is the willingness of gangs to use lethal force against lawmen. Since late 2009, there have been at least five episodes in which Border Patrol has taken fire, and the Nogales police have faced similar danger.
In early June, at Kino Springs east of the city, two off-duty policemen on horseback captured two drug loads in the same week, resulting in a threat against city police to "look the other way, or be targeted by snipers or by other means." As a result, Kirkham says his department is giving assault and ambush training to officers, and he has advised them to wear bulletproof vests if they ride horses at Kino Springs.
But the majority of the trouble is occurring west of the city along the Peck Canyon Corridor, which parallels Interstate 19 on the west, the same land Rep. Ra˙l Grijalva has proposed turning into a federal wilderness.
What's going on? Can the violence be stopped before we have another borderlands tragedy involving an American citizen or a lawman?
The episodes are clearly fallout from the relentless traffic in human beings and drugs across our border. But after that, answers are elusive, because no one has been arrested for any of these crimes. Sheriff's deputies, often called to the scene hours after the fact, find victims terrified and exhausted after running long distances over remote terrain to escape, and are frequently unable to say exactly where the crime occurred. And victims rarely provide good descriptions of assailants; the incidents often happen at night, and victims sometimes tell investigators they didn't look at the suspects for fear of being shot.
The witnesses could be lying, too. "Someone who is robbed is never going to admit they brought in drugs themselves," says Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada.
Rodriguez describes these episodes as crimes of opportunity likely committed by competing drug cartels that find it easier to steal a load after it has been brought across the border, rather than bringing it across themselves. These bandits, known as bajadores, sometimes work so close to the border that they can "cross easily back into Mexico without having to worry about our response time," says Rodriguez, and they keep watch over smuggling routes. When a group of illegals or drug mules enters the country, they follow and set an ambush, stealing whatever valuables they can.
The assailants could also be from this country, gunmen from Tucson or Phoenix who work with the cartels, or independent thugs making money ripping off illegals and drug loads. Investigators can't rule anything out. "These individuals usually wear some type of bandana or ski mask and dark clothes," says Rodriguez. "There's nothing to help us identify them as either Americans or Mexican nationals."
Border Patrol spokesperson Colleen Agle says those who cross into that "very remote region become easy prey for somebody looking to exploit the situation." Estrada says smugglers use the forest west of Interstate 19 because they're trying to get around Border Patrol's checkpoint at kilometer 42. He adds his department has five deputies per shift to cover 1,200 square miles, and doesn't "have the luxury of patrolling the mountains and canyons."
"If we get calls from out there, we respond," says Estrada. "But patrolling that area is up to Border Patrol. Drugs and aliens crossing the border is their responsibility."
The borderlands north and west of Nogales have always been wild. During the Apache Wars, renegades used that country to raid the United States and escape untouched back to the Mexican Sierra Madre.
Peck Canyon gets its name from rancher Al Peck. His wife, daughter and a ranch hand were brutally murdered by Geronimo and his band when they stormed through the canyon on April 27, 1886, his last raid in Arizona before surrendering that September. David Lowell's grandfather sat on the coroner's jury for Geronimo's killings.
The area today is still extremely remote, largely unpopulated and federally managed. Countless smuggling trails cross the terrain, many leading into the mostly road-less Atascosas. Estrada says these mountains are so rough that on some occasions, his investigators, unable to reach areas by ATV or even horseback, have had to be dropped in by helicopter. The terrain puts law enforcement in a reactive mode.
"Once smugglers hit that country, you have no capability of knowing where they're going, and they have days to move a load through," says Keith Graves, who worked for 10 years as Nogales district ranger for the Coronado National Forest. He is now a liaison between the Forest Service and the Secure Border Initiative. "Even if they trip a sensor, there are only certain things Border Patrol can do. They usually have to wait until the smugglers come out."
Peck Canyon is a hot spot, because it offers an easy exit route from the Atascosas to Interstate 19, three miles east of the canyon entrance near Rio Rico.
Based on descriptions he has received and his own deduction, David Lowell believes the three sniper-style shootings that have occurred in Peck Canyon, on Nov. 21, 2009, and June 11 and July 2, 2010, have all been in a very narrow area about 3/4 of a mile long and less than a mile behind his house. "Shooting a high-powered rifle at a man in the open at less than 100 yards is a fish-in-a-barrel shot," says Lowell, adding that he believes it's no coincidence that most were shot in the arm or leg. "I think it's a message that 'this is our corridor,' belonging to ABC cartel or whatever, 'and go no further.'"
Edith says thieves have been robbing illegals crossing the mountains for some time. "But now we have bandits shooting at them, and that's something new," she says.
Jim Cuming, who lives near the Lowells, saw the result on Nov. 21, 2009, when David Luna Zapata, the victim of a sniper shooting, showed up at his driveway about 10 p.m. Responding to his barking dogs, Cuming went out and found Zapata bleeding profusely from bullet wounds in the thigh and ankle.
"I got him a chair and sat him down," says Cuming. "He was in obvious pain. The light was not bright, but I could see his pant leg was soaked in blood."
Before his family stopped ranching in 2000, Cuming, a landscaper, says it was rare to see even a footprint in those mountains. Today, he says the Peck Corridor is marked by 2-foot-wide trails.
"With the economy like it is, the majority coming now aren't looking for work," says Cuming. "I think they're part of the drug industry."
That trend is evident in other areas of Arizona's borderlands, where residents report seeing fewer workers and more drug activity. In the Chiricahua Corridor above Douglas, scene of the Krentz murder, drug-trafficking continues, says Don Kimble, who lives on the corridor's eastern border in the Peloncillo Mountains, a hot spot. "If I sit outside on still nights, I can hear mules talking at my well west of my house," says Kimble. "Drug-smuggling might've gone down a little since Rob's murder, but not much. When they need to send a load, it's going to go. They still cross at will."
Arrest numbers in Border Patrol's Tucson Sector indicate that crossings in general have dropped in the past few years. In fiscal year 2007, agents arrested 378,000 people in the sector. By 2009, the number had dropped to 241,000, and in 2010, the arrest number was 212,000. It sounds like good news, but caution is in order, says Brandon Judd, president of the local chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, the agents' union.
He says the Obama administration, desperate to pass comprehensive immigration reform, wants to convince the public that the border is secure, so they deliberately under-staff remote mountainous and desert areas to keep arrests down, allowing Napolitano and others to claim their security efforts are slashing crossings.
Judd says better enforcement has indeed made the border more secure in some areas, such as right behind the new fencing east and west of Nogales, where most of the new agents have been placed. But staffing hasn't been increased in remote regions, including the mountains west of Nogales. "The border in those areas is as wide open as it has ever been," says Judd.
Certainly, the woeful economy is another big factor in the drop in arrests. But bigger still, at least in some areas, is the spectacular drug violence in Mexico. As cartels fight each other to control land in northern Mexico, and very profitable routes on American soil, normal life, including migrant traffic, has changed dramatically.
In Sasabe, 45 miles south of Three Points, Alice Knagge says the gang that controls Sasabe, Sonora, right across the line, has frightened everyone so badly that everyday commerce has virtually stopped. "People don't come across to shop here anymore," Knagge says. "My business is down 40 percent in a year and a half." The crowds of illegals who once rushed across the surrounding Altar Valley, as many as 4,000 every 24 hours, have diminished as well, some diverted by fencing and additional agents in the Baboquivari Mountains.
Life has also changed to the east, at Jim Chilton's ranch outside Arivaca, the eastern border of which abuts the Peck Canyon Corridor. He has ended his "very friendly" practice of offering water to passing illegals. Now, with the gangster threat, if he sees a group coming over a hill, he quickly turns and rides away on his horse.
And he no longer carries a cell phone when he rides. Chilton says Border Patrol has warned him not to, saying he could be shot if traffickers see him on the phone. "We have a policy of not reporting to Border Patrol anything we see for fear of the cartels taking us out," Chilton says. "We have to ride our border fence three times a week, and we're highly concerned about running into a drug intrusion and being attacked.
"The fact is, every time I ride, I go out knowing I might be shot," Chilton continues. "But I have to decide if I'm a cowboy or a wimp. I live in this area. This is my home, and I am not running from it. I am prepared."
Chilton's neighbor, Tom Kay, says Border Patrol agents have warned him not to go to the southern part of his ranch bordering Mexico unless absolutely necessary. They say cartel scouts, who set up observation posts on hilltops to guide loads north, are now carrying rifles, as well as infrared binoculars and satellite radios.
"I have to go down there to work, or give up my ranch. I have no choice," says Kay, adding he's always armed and usually accompanied by a cowboy. He says illegal crossings of his land have plunged from as many as 1,500 a day four years ago to about 25 now. A big drop followed the July 1 gunfight between rival cartels at Tubutama, Mexico, leaving a reported 21 dead. The battle occurred 12 miles south of Kay's ranch.
"They're not coming our way, because they're afraid of being shot," says Kay. "Our ranch is almost normal in that respect, the best since we've been here. Border Patrol is much stronger than ever, going by our house both ways, all day. But it's also much more dangerous than ever. The Border Patrol, going to the southern part of my ranch, now carries rifles, too. They consider it extremely dangerous there, even for them."
While Napolitano boasts to the country that the border is "largely secure," some ground agents in her employ, and the residents they work hard to protect, describe something entirely different.
Does criminal activity inside the Peck Corridor make that land unsafe for recreation? Shane Lyman, acting district ranger in Nogales, referred the Weekly's questions to Heidi Schewel, spokeswoman for the Coronado National Forest. Schewel said she'd call back to talk about the safety of American public land but failed to do so.
But Keith Graves says he's worked the area, often alone, for 12 years with no problem, and that the Coronado has had no complaints from people who've been accosted. "As long as you're not stupid, it's safe to go in there," says Graves. "But take precautions. It's like camping out in Montana without managing for grizzly bears."
He says if you see backpacks or packages wrapped in burlap, leave them alone. If you see a group that doesn't fit the surroundings and doesn't look like a hiking club, go the other way.
Graves' biggest fear is vigilantes announcing they're going into an area to stop drug-smugglers, putting hunters in danger. "A bandit won't know if I'm a deer hunter or if I'm out to find him," says Graves.
Those who live inside or on the edge of the Peck Corridor are more wary. Nogales native Ramiro Molina, who has a home in Agua Fria Canyon, says he'd probably still hunt the Atascosa Mountains. "But I wouldn't feel comfortable camping there with my kids, that's for sure," says Molina. "I'd get in the car and go somewhere else."
A rancher at the southern end of the corridor, who asked for anonymity, says drug-smugglers try to move through quickly and stay away from campers. "But if you're in the wrong place, and suddenly they're there, it can be dangerous. The smugglers get braver and braver all the time. They've infiltrated this whole area and think they own it."
Rancher Dan Bell agrees that it's a crapshoot. "You never know what you might run across, and you don't know what those guys might think when they see you," he says. "Rob Krentz was out checking waters when he was killed. You just don't know anymore. If you're going to go, go in a group. Don't go alone."
David Lowell, who believes the shooters are coming from across the line, says, "My advice is to stay out until our government pulls itself together and does more to exclude these Mexican criminals." He and Edith used to go on a once-a-year family camping trip in Peck Canyon. But they've stopped, "feeling we might be robbed or assaulted with so many of these people crawling around in there. So we're no longer willing to camp on our own ranch."
As Edith says, "These shootings from ambush are very sobering. When I have a guest who wants to hike, I no longer tell them, 'Great, just walk out into Peck Canyon by yourself.'" But she says day-hikers or picnickers who go in groups, stay alert and don't confront people will likely have no problem.
It might be different, though, for hunters who camp in the mountains for days at a time. Edith says her dermatologist, who has hunted the area for years, stopped doing so after an encounter with drug mules escorted by men carrying rifles. The gunmen told the hunters they were working with Border Patrol. The hunters pretended to believe them, and the groups parted without incident. "That kind of thing doesn't happen all the time, and with luck, it won't happen at all," Edith says.
But the Lowells don't rely much on luck. They've installed even more security at their home, in the form of perimeter motion lights, some linked to sirens, and they're hyper-alert to the barking of their loyal springer spaniel, Ginger. They also regularly clear the thick brush at the end of their driveway, where four active drug trails converge.
The smugglers, oblivious to Janet Napolitano's "largely secure" border, use that brush to hide their drug loads until someone comes to haul them north.
VIOLENCE ON THE RISE
The following is a partial list of episodes that have occurred in the Peck Canyon Corridor in the past year. Except for two incidents involving the Border Patrol, all information comes from incident reports reviewed by the Tucson Weekly at the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office:
ï Nov. 21, 2009. Men dressed in black fire at eight illegals in Peck Canyon with automatic weapons, wounding David Luna Zapata. He runs through the mountains for an hour before reaching Jim Cuming's house and calling for help.
ï Nov. 27, 2009. A hunter in Fresno Canyon, two miles north of Peck Canyon, finds the body of a Hispanic male, shot to death. When Border Patrol backtracked, they spotted "four scouts in a cave and attempted to apprehend the subjects." The agents also "spotted three subjects walking on the same route with seven subjects approximately 10 minutes behind." The men are believed to be drug mules.
ï Dec. 27, 2009. A sniper shoots a Border Patrol agent in the ankle in Ramanote Canyon, on the Lowells' ranch, about two miles southwest of their home. Two agents had entered the canyon after spotting a subject "possibly carrying a marijuana bundle."
ï June 11, 2010. Two men wearing camouflage and masks fire on seven illegals near Ramanote Wells, on the Lowells' ranch. As the illegals flee, they meet two more masked men, who also fire "multiple rounds at them." Manuel Esquer Gomez, wounded in the arm, says that as he and the other illegals flee, they stumble across a decomposing body with the head and hands missing, "possibly due to animal activity." The body is 200 yards from the Lowells' home. Pima County's Medical Examiner tells the Weekly the dead man is too "heavily skeletonized" to determine a cause of death.
ï July 2, 2010. Hilltop gunmen fire at 10 illegals, likely in Peck Canyon (based on descriptions). Two aliens say they couldn't see the assailants, but bullets hit the ground around them. One man, running "as fast as he could down the canyon," is hit in the back. The illegals admit entering the U.S. three days earlier to find work in Tucson.
ï July 7, 2010. Based on a reliable intelligence source, Immigration and Customs Enforcement warns that a bounty has been placed on Nogales Border Patrol agents. The alert says 20 to 25 snipers, possibly from the Beltr•n-Leyva Cartel, are headed to Nogales, Sonora, to shoot agents. The alert says snipers would be paid $5,000 for each person shot and cautions agents "to remain vigilant, maintain awareness of their surroundings, and utilize body armor and long arms as appropriate."
ï Aug. 28, 2010. Two men in camouflage carrying handguns approach two Hispanic males between Peck Canyon and Negro Canyon. The gunmen ask "in Spanish for the marijuana." The men say they don't have marijuana and flee. The incident occurs a mile from the Lowells' home, on the north side of Peck Canyon.
ï Sept. 5, 2010. Snipers fire multiple shots, probably with a high-caliber rifle, at Border Patrol agents in Bellota Canyon, north of PeÒa Blanca Lake. An agent returns fire; no one is hit. Border Patrol agents also took fire inside the Peck Corridor on Aug. 9, 2009, near the town of Ruby, and on June 21, 2010, west of DeConcini port of entry in Nogales.
ï Sept. 12, 2010. Three men carrying rifles and wearing bandana masks fire at two illegals in the Walker Canyon area, northeast of PeÒa Blanca Lake. No one is hit. One of the illegals says the assailants were in a "very green" area and "suspects they were growing marijuana." The victims entered the U.S. west of the border wall and walked through a large hole in the barbed wire fence, "big enough where ATVs have been passing through." They'd followed the ATV tracks for an hour when attacked.
ï Sept. 14, 2010. Seven illegals report being assaulted near Atascosa Lookout, six miles west of Agua Fria Canyon. Jesus Enrique Perez-Mercado says the gunmen stole $200 from him and assaulted him when he balked at giving up his rosary beads. Perez-Mercado says the gunmen spoke English to each other but Spanish to their victims.
ï Oct. 21, 2010. A man in a hooded jacket and carrying a cuerno de chivo, slang for AK-47, attacks nine illegals, five men and four women, in the Pajarito Mountains south of PeÒa Blanca Lake. He robs them, kicking some of the men in the stomach. He tells the women to strip and penetrates them with his fingers. He separates out one woman and rapes her, never removing his hood or relinquishing his weapon.
ï Nov. 11, 2010. Three men wearing masks rob an illegal at gunpoint on Wise Mesa, in the national forest between Peck Canyon and Agua Fria Canyon. The assailants tell the man to leave the area and not return.
ï Nov. 16, 2010. Border Patrolmen on horseback encounter 12 illegals two miles northwest of PeÒa Blanca Lake. An agent shoots one of the illegals in the stomach after the illegal reportedly threatens him with a rock.
As federal officials talk tough, local officers express concern about cartel violence
By Leo W. Banks
The Tucson Weekly, March 31, 2011
We have a mess on the Arizona-Mexico border, and the people of Arizona can't make an honest assessment of it without pondering the concept of spillover.
The word has become a mantra that appears in just about every pronouncement by the feds, and it gets repeated by a compliant mainstream media.
In a speech in January, Alan Bersin, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said he's thought a lot about why so many Americans think the border is out of control.
"The answer has to be," he said, "that the violence in northern Mexico is real and unprecedented. Because of that violence, the threat that it will spill over is there. While we haven't seen the spillover violence, the risk is clearly there."
Last week in El Paso, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano repeated the no-spillover canard. This came on the heels of the bizarre challenge she issued to the drug cartels in January, saying, "Don't even think about bringing your violence and tactics across this border. You will be met by an overwhelming response."
If by "violence and tactics," Napolitano means the shootouts and mass murders that have become commonplace in Mexico's drug war, fair enough; violence of that proportion has not spilled over here.
But otherwise, this mantra presents a misleading image, of a federal phalanx at the border capable of preventing anything bad from entering this country.
However, the whole reason the Arizona-Mexico border today is fraught with danger is because of spillover.
"I don't know how people are defining spillover, but it's here now and ongoing," says Nogales Police Chief Jeff Kirkham. "The fingers of the cartels reach all the way to the Tucson and the Phoenix metropolitan areas, and other states."
The conflict in Southern Arizona is a fight to control American land. We're experiencing constant incursions by armed cartel soldiers. In a Washington Post story last May, Robert Boatright, deputy chief of Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, said border agents here have "close to daily" encounters with armed smugglers.
These are hardened men, mostly "prior deports," as Border Patrol calls them, who know Arizona's borderlands as well as their own faces. They're motivated enough to use our remotest lands as contraband highways, and athletic enough to vanish into the canyons when agents give chase.
And if challenged on the hugely profitable routes they've fought and shed blood to "own" for their particular gang, they will shoot. This became clear with the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, part of an elite BORTAC team sent into the Peck Canyon Corridor outside of Nogales on Dec. 14.
"Certainly, most Americans don't know these incursions go on all the time, but they do," says Kirkham. "It's sad that conditions on our border have gotten to where we have to send in special interdiction teams. But these incursions are a significant threat that needs to be solved."
A dramatic example of spillover occurred in Tucson on Aug. 5, 2009, when 15-year-old Brenda Arenas was murdered in an attempted southside carjacking. In late January 2011, three Mexican nationals, admitted drug-smugglers suspected in the slaying, surrendered to American officials at Nogales.
Why? One of the men told a Tucson TV station that their cartel bosses told them they were bringing too much attention, and they had a choice: Turn yourselves in, or we'll kill you. They chose to roll the dice with American jurisprudence. They were dropped off at the border crossing and booked into the Santa Cruz County Jail.
"I've never heard of anything like that happening in my 43 years in law enforcement in Nogales," says Sheriff Tony Estrada.
The spillover is everywhere. In the past year in Pinal County, Sheriff Paul Babeu reports that violent crimes related to drug-smuggling include two-officer involved shootings, two cartel hits in Casa Grande, the killing of two illegals transporting drugs, and the shooting of a Phoenix kidnap victim unable to meet a ransom demand. In Maricopa County, authorities recently confirmed that a man found beheaded in a Chandler apartment in October had been murdered for stealing from a cartel.
In Cochise County, Sheriff Larry Dever counts the unsolved March 27, 2010, murder of rancher Rob Krentz as spillover, along with break-ins and home invasions along the Chiricahua Corridor above Douglas.
The toll from these crimes, he says, falls on more than the immediate victims and involves more than material possessions. They damage the sense of security and well-being of everyone in the area. And violent episodes in Mexico compound the impact, because so many Southern Arizonans have friends, acquaintances or family in Sonora.
"These events are changing lives forever, and I count that as spillover, too," says Dever.
The 262-mile-wide Tucson Sector is prime spillover country, especially on federal lands. Last November, the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, issued a report stating that Border Patrol agents had arrested 91,000 aliens on federal land in Arizona in fiscal 2009.
But entries outpaced arrests by three to one. The report stated that not only is illegal cross-border activity "a significant threat" to federal lands in Arizona, but it "may be increasing."
Another GAO document, released in mid-February, said Border Patrol had achieved "varying levels of operational control", defined as a high likelihood of crossers being apprehended, over only 44 percent of the roughly 2,000-mile Southwest border.
The good news is that the border land under control increased by 126 miles per year from 2005 to 2010. About 68 percent of the Tucson Sector is under control, but that still leaves 32 percent, or about 86 miles, relatively open to illegal activity.
The drug cartels are exploiting the gaps, and they're a different beast from a few years ago, says Richard Valdemar, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff's detective now living in Bullhead City. They've become more militarized, and include elements of former police and the Mexican army and marines.
"Having a military presence on the border loyal to the cartels is a whole different thing from a law-enforcement presence," says Valdemar, former supervisor of Los Angeles County's prison gang unit who now works training police on gang activities. "We're not talking about some guy with a Saturday-night special popping a few rounds off at Border Patrol."
On the weaponry, Kirkham agrees: "It's amazing how much firepower they have. We're talking AK-47s; we're talking MAC-10s, fully auto."
Valdemar says this militarization, and the apparent end to the taboo against killing American law enforcement, requires a strong response to stop incursions at our border. Instead, he says, we erect signs warning citizens about traveling on heavily trafficked federal lands, or we close lands to the public because of the danger.
At present, as GAO noted, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is 55 percent closed, and the chief ranger at the Sonoran Desert National Monument proposed closing that entire 480,000-acre preserve, on the Interstate 8 smuggling corridor. Border sheriffs call those lands "almost America."
"To the cartels, that's weakness," Valdemar says. "They already think we're decadent, soft and unmanly. Then to cede parts of our own country only encourages them to be more violent. They think we're fucking punks."
As for the future, Valdemar, Dever and Kirkham all say they expect more spillover violence.
"There are certainly going to be more incidents, because we now have interdiction efforts meeting it head-on," says Kirkham. "Whether it's human beings or drugs, they're becoming more desperate to get their product across, one way or another
The Brothers Arellanes
The man held in connection with the murder of Agent Brian Terry has a crime-ridden past, and so does at least one relative
By Leo W. Banks
The Tucson Weekly, April 21, 2011
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's border strategy is to push as much of the illicit traffic as possible out of towns and settled areas, and into the backcountry.
Out of sight, out of mind. With the smugglers high up in the mountains and in remote canyons, she gains enough political cover to stand up and say the border is largely secure, so let's move on to comprehensive immigration reform.
But the strategy hasn't stopped the traffic; it's only moved it, into the neighborhoods of rural Southern Arizonans, which explains why these folks push back so loudly and so emotionally against the government spin.
Everything is on the line for them, their property, their families and their lives, as they try to stay away from dangerous smugglers crossing their land. They believe one of them killed rancher Rob Krentz in March 2010, and another murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry along the Peck Canyon smuggling corridor, northwest of Nogales, on Dec. 14, 2010.
In the latter case, four men were arrested following the Terry incident, all illegal aliens. Three were judged not to be involved and were deported. The fourth, 34-year-old Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, is still being held for trial, now scheduled for May 10, on a felony charge of re-entry after deportation.
If you live along a smuggling corridor in the remote borderlands, or work for the Border Patrol and police those areas, men like Arellanes are your worst nightmare.
He was one of five armed men, part of a "rip crew" of border bandits who refused to drop their weapons when ordered to do so by agents from Border Patrol's elite BORTAC unit. In the deadly shootout that followed, Arellanes was wounded. He admitted carrying a rifle, according to an FBI search warrant, but claimed he did not fire when he realized the men they'd encountered were Border Patrol agents.
Arellanes' criminal past includes domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence against police, according to records in Maricopa County. Moreover, Arellanes might've been working the Peck Corridor with Rito Osorio-Arellanes, who is believed to be Manuel's brother.
Rito was arrested in the same area two days before Terry's murder.
Federal court records show that Rito, whose name, like Manuel's, is spelled in multiple ways in public documents, was taken into custody on Dec. 12 near Rio Rico. Smugglers, bandits and illegal aliens often enter and exit the Peck corridor at Rio Rico, which is close to Peck Well, the area of the Coronado National Forest where the murder occurred on Dec. 14.
After his arrest in Mesa on March 16, 2004, for selling $20 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover detective in Pioneer Park, Rito said if released, he would go live with his brother in Mesa. Rito was a transient at the time. Manuel was also was living in Mesa then, and in court records, both gave their address as Pasadena Street.
Rito also had a criminal record in this country, and he told a Maricopa County probation officer in 2004 that he had done time in Mexico for homicide. In a pre-sentencing report, the probation officer wrote that he did not verify that statement.
Rito's lawyer, Daniel Anderson, says he heard that Rito's brother had been shot by Border Patrol agents, but knew nothing more about it. As for Rito's past in Mexico, Anderson said he was unaware of it, and couldn't talk about it even if he were.
The Tucson Weekly tried to confirm Rito's statement through the Mexican Foreign Ministry in Washington, D.C., but was unsuccessful as of our press time.
Were Manuel and Rito working together in Peck Canyon? Were they part of the same crew that was assaulting, raping and robbing illegals and rival drug mules using that corridor?
Court records also detail the border-area arrests of another man with the same last name: Daniel Osorio-Arellanes, 35. Like Rito, Daniel is from Sinaloa, Mexico.
Border Patrol arrested him on Oct. 20, 2008, near the border town of Sasabe, Ariz. Although the record is unclear, he was likely voluntarily returned to Mexico, which basically means he was pushed back across the line.
But the next day, he was arrested again, this time in Amado, near Interstate 10 and Arivaca Road. Court records show he had been deported three years earlier, on Oct. 18, 2005. The government dismissed the felony charge of re-entry after deportation, and Daniel pleaded guilty to misdemeanor entry without inspection. He served 180 days in jail.
Prior to all of this, on Oct. 7, 2008, Mexican police arrested Daniel in Altar, Sonora, just south of Sasabe, for possession of methamphetamine, according to information from Mexico's attorney general.
Meth is commonly used by coyotes and drug-smugglers for the energy boost it provides. Coyotes give it to the people they're guiding to keep them walking through the night, a dangerous tactic that can accelerate dehydration.
Meth has played a key role in the criminal histories of Manuel and Rito as well. Both also have multiple deportations, but the open border allows them to keep returning to this country.
Manuel was detained in Mesa on Nov. 17, 2003, for resisting arrest. According to the Mesa police report, when officers responded to a call about a man looking into backyards and "possibly casing houses," they found Manuel yelling in Spanish at a woman waiting in her car for her daughter outside of New Horizon elementary school.
Manuel refused commands to move away from the car, and when police tried to arrest him, Manuel "spun away from our grasp and attempted to run," the report said. He continued to struggle after being handcuffed.
To get him into a patrol car, officers had to wrestle him to the street twice and Taser him twice, to minimal effect. At the Mesa jail, he fought officers again, after which paramedics were called to take him to the hospital due to a rapid heartbeat.
Manuel, a day laborer in the country illegally, admitted that he used marijuana, cocaine and meth, according to a pre-sentencing report by a Maricopa County probation officer.
He said he began smoking marijuana frequently at age 13. He began using meth "one or two times per month" at 26, and had last used the drug two weeks before his arrest.
He pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation.
After a period during which Manuel seemed to do well, passing all court-ordered urinalysis tests, he was arrested again on May 21, 2006, for aggravated assault on a police officer.
Officers were summoned to his house in Mesa on a domestic-violence call after his wife reported that Manuel was drunk and causing a disturbance. Police had been to the house several times in previous months for the same trouble.
As an officer approached him, Manuel said, "Don't arrest me." When the officer attempted to handcuff him, Manuel punched the policeman in the face, causing a bloody cut on his left cheek and a bloody lip.
Court papers in Maricopa County state that Manuel admitted using cocaine the day of the arrest. He also said that in the three months prior to his arrest, he'd been using meth, and it had made him "very paranoid," according to the pre-sentencing report.
The report also noted that the officer with whom Manuel fought had been to the house before, on a domestic call during which Arellanes had "smacked up his wife pretty good."
The report provides a glimpse into Manuel's life. He admitted coming to the country illegally in 1999. He said he was married and had two stepdaughters.
Beginning in March 2003, he worked as an $11-per-hour tile-setter for a company in Gilbert. In a letter to the court, his boss said he was pleased to have Manuel on his staff, because he was "a very dependable and reliable worker."
But in a phone interview with the Weekly, company owner Slobadan Daki said that "was on the days when he showed up."
Manuel pleaded guilty to felony aggravated assault on a police officer and got 60 days in jail, followed by three years of probation. He also was ordered to undergo domestic-violence and anger-management counseling, and submit to DNA testing for law-enforcement purposes.
Court records show that Manuel's next arrest occurred six months before the Terry murder, on June 8, 2010, when Border Patrol agents found him after he had entered the country illegally near Nogales. He pleaded guilty to that crime and was deported on June 14, his last known appearance in the country before his re-entry in December.
Clay Hernandez, Manuel's lawyer, did not return a phone call to talk about his client.
Manuel has not been charged in the Terry murder, presumably because the FBI is unable to link the AK-47 he carried to the killing. FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Multiple media sources have reported that two AK-47s were recovered at the scene. The guns have been traced to a three-gun cash purchase from the Lone Wolf Trading Company gun shop in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 16, 2010, according to a federal indictment.
A law enforcement source with knowledge of the matter said the third AK-47 from that buy, possibly the murder weapon, has never been located and is a key component of the FBI's effort to identify a killer.
As for Rito, now 40 years old, he pleaded guilty to his 2004 crack-cocaine arrest, serving 100 days in jail and getting three years of probation. He told police he was selling drugs to buy food. He acknowledged needing help for his addictions, saying he'd been drinking six to 12 beers a day prior to his arrest and smoking meth daily for two years.
While still on probation, on March 24, 2006, Rito was again arrested in Pioneer Park, for possession of crack cocaine. He gave police a false name and date of birth.
Rito explained to court officials that following his earlier deportation, he returned illegally to the United States again around January 2005 out of economic necessity. He supported himself by waiting on street corners two or three mornings per week to get day-labor jobs that paid $50 to $60 in cash per day.
He admitted to using $60 a day worth of meth or crack, in addition to drinking one to two six-packs of beer a day. He pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia and spent 30 days in jail, which was followed by three years of probation.
Court records show Rito was deported through Nogales on Feb. 11, 2010. After that, he disappeared from public view until two days before the Terry murder, when Border Patrol arrested him at Rio Rico. He is scheduled to stand trial in federal court in Tucson on June 14 on a felony charge of re-entry after deportation.