Badlands: From Ground Zero of the Immigration Crisis Along the Mexican Border | News | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Badlands: From Ground Zero of the Immigration Crisis Along the Mexican Border 

Thursday, Jun 3 2010

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"That's where they dumped dope for a long time, there in the yard," he says. "The thinking was that Border Patrol couldn't enter school grounds chasing after UDAs [undocumented aliens]. The bad guys would wait awhile, and then someone would pick up the stuff and split."

The deputy drives onto the dirt road that runs parallel to the border fence for miles and miles on either side of the town. Green-and-white Border Patrol vehicles come into view every few minutes, parked on the road or patrolling in both directions.

As a brilliant Cochise County sunset fades into darkness, Gilbert spots some Border Patrol vehicles parked in the brush just off the road. They are no more than 200 feet from the fence and less than a mile from the Border Patrol station in Naco.

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Several agents have surrounded a group of about 20 people standing side by side. Each, including a little boy clinging to a diminutive, dark-skinned woman, looks as blue as the darkening sky above.

Here they stand, illegal as can be, after an undoubtedly dangerous and rigorous trek from, in this instance, southern Mexico; one that has ended abruptly, just steps inside the United States.

Some grip the plastic garbage bags that hold their worldly belongings and stare blankly into space. One by one, they are directed into the rear of a packed van, from which they'll be taken to a holding tank.

Eventually, they will be deported.

The scene, repeated daily in various forms all over the Tucson Sector, triggers a series of thoughts from Deputy Gilbert.

"It takes courage tromping through this desert for days knowing you can die at any point in the heat or cold or at the hands of a coyote," he says. "It's against the law, but that doesn't stop them. Sometimes, they get deported really fast, but then I might see them again a few days later — like they never left."

In other words, they turn around and come right back over, desperate to take another run at a new life.

Gilbert shares a story as he continues to patrol: A small group of undocumented aliens were huddling in the mountains a few miles from the Bisbee sheriff's substation (where the county jail is located) when one of them desperately contacted the Sheriff's Office.

"One of their family members who was coming across was really sick with diabetes, and they were very upset," the deputy says.

"I called Border Patrol, which has a team that helps people in need — and I went out there, too. Picture someone's uncle or grandfather. He had on a suit jacket or something. He looked decent — not a criminal — trying to make a better life. It came down to this. He was dead. I still feel sorry for him."

Sheriff Dever is back in Arizona, one day after his April 20 testimony before the U.S. Senate.

He drives over to the Turquoise Valley Golf Course in Naco, where the Sierra Vista Chamber of Commerce is holding a breakfast meeting.

Standing before about 30 people, service pistol strapped to his blue jeans, Dever speaks with quiet passion about (what else?) immigration, before inviting questions.

Senate Bill 1070, then a few days from getting signed by Governor Brewer, and Rob Krentz's murder are what the businesspeople most want to know about.

Susan Tegmeyer, the chamber's president, frets that SB 1070 will make the rest of the country believe that Arizona is filled with racists: "I'm thinking that 1070 is just another nail in our economic coffin."

Dever responds, "The alternative is to do nothing, and that's not acceptable. I expect that our deputies will exercise restraint on 1070. I simply won't allow random wholesale questioning of who you are and where you come from."

The sheriff tells another story about Janet Napolitano:

"As governor of Arizona, she would send bills to the feds trying to get counties repaid for handling stuff that the feds should have been doing. I thought, cool.

"She also wrote to W. asking for National Guard troops down here. I thought, cool.

"Then she goes to D.C. A year ago, I was in her office there, and I asked her directly if deploying the National Guard on the border was still on her plate. She said it was. I said, do you have a timeframe?

"She said they were just trying to determine the specific mission. I said, 'You have a timeframe?' She said, 'Three weeks.' That was a year ago."

On May 25, President Obama announced plans to order up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, including an unspecified number to Cochise County.

It is reminiscent of June 2006, when President Bush sent 6,000 troops to the border for two years in a support role that did not include arresting or even tracking down illegal migrants.

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