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Tucson Weekly Crossing The Line

The Police Presence Grows On The Border.

By Jeff Smith

JUNE 1, 1999: 

Bring us your poor,
your huddled masses,
yearning to breathe free.

I WON A piece of the pie at Trivial Pursuit a couple of weeks ago by kind of backing into the preceding quotation. It's part of a longer poem by a woman whose name I disremember just now. Anyway the question included her name and something about "your tempest-tossed" and so on. It rang a bell then; mine won't peal right now. Maturity sucks.

And on the topic of things that suck, driving home from Nogales is not the unalloyed uplift it once was. Typically, in days of yore, the back of the truck would be full of Cokes and Cheez-Whiz and I'd be passing the entrance to Lake Patagonia and looking forward to the green canyon oasis that stretches from the Circle Z Ranch, by the site of Johnny Ward's old place where the Apaches were alleged to have kidnapped his half-breed step-son and set off Cochise's 10-year war, and on through my hometown of Patagonia.

Now when I head north from the border my jaws go tight, and I wonder how long we're going to have to put up with this Border Patrol crap at Milepost 9. Last year it was a checkpoint between Sonoita and I-10. For the past several months it's been south of Patagonia, right by the road that turns west to the lake. Day and night they're parked there, camped there actually, with Stalag 17-style mercury lamps blazing in the darkness, porta-poopers off the side of the road and presumably downwind, and a trailer so la Migra will have someplace to sleep besides their green-and-whites, and doughnuts and coffee handier than a drive to Nogales or Patagonia, roughly equidistant from their semi-permanent outpost.

I'm a white boy, locally born and raised, and I look it. And still it pisses me off every time I have to slow and stop and roll down the window and gaze innocently into the eyes of a lad in lincoln green, so he can see for himself that I'm not some greaser trying to sneak into America and steal Chevys and rape rubias and pick lettuce.

I do my best to irritate these employees of mine, in hope that my discontent will trickle up to and through them to their bosses and their bosses' bosses. I answer their questions in Spanish. They only laugh. It's not working, any of it.

I'm not making the Border Patrol unhappy enough to quit harassing Mexicans, illegal or not, and gringos, innocent or merely not guilty on technicalities. And the Border Patrol, for its part, is showing no real success in stemming the human tide that washes part and forth across our southern border, as certainly and relentlessly as those other tides that rise and fall with the waxing and waning of the moon.

Hell, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the tide of mojados operates on the same lunar cycle as the seven seas. Better light to hike by, and lunacy to inspire courage.

Because it takes courage to brave the border, the courage of a peasant class that never has known comfort or ease, only hard work for short rations. These, by a vast majority, are what the United States government has sacrificed its citizens' freedom to fight. They'll tell you it's drug smugglers, burglars, car thieves and desperate, violent men, but mainly it's just a lot of sad people willing to take a long chance, in order to better their lives and those of the families they leave back in the interior of Mexico.

They are legion, to be sure, but dangerous? I don't think so. And I live among them. Or they live among me. I've had groups of wetbacks--mojados in the Mexican vernacular--and onesies or twosies show up at my house, sometimes in the middle of the night, once in a howling cold November rainstorm. Invariably I've invited them in, got them dry duds and blankets, something to eat and offered advice as to how to make their way north without running into the law. Does this make me a criminal? Maybe.

Does it make me wrong? Hell no.

I'm inclined to think the underground railroad also has a grapevine that informs the pent-up tide waiting to cross the line where they might find a friendly light in a window, and a night's keep in trade for a day's work. Because the system has worked that way for me, always. I've never locked my doors and never had so much as a spoon stolen by my traveling Mexican guests.

So why are the Feds creating a fortified border in my neighborhood? Why are people like Sen. Jon Kyl pressing Attorney General Janet Reno to send even more Border Patrol officers to Southern Arizona? Why do those of us who live around here constantly run into fresh-faced boys in uniform--whether the costumes denote Customs, cops, narcs, Migra or armed forces?


Same dumb reason they keep that useless and offensive blimp on the end of a string, floating above Fort Huachuca: it's federal dollars getting dumped into some politician's home district. Pork. And it's a multiplicity of bureaucracies perpetuating themselves, their payrolls, their toys, the power of the people who have clawed their way to the higher prominences on the pile.

Do you believe that if Sen. Kyl gets his way, if Janet Reno's promises are prosecuted, the game of leap-frog back and forth across our southern border will in any significant way be curtailed? Do you believe that the aerostat blimp has helped cut the flow of drugs north from Mexico and Central and South America?

Do you believe that bunnies lay eggs, and if so, that they hop around one Sunday out of every year giving these certifiable miracles away for free?

Tell me you don't, please. I need to hear some optimistic portents for our nation's future.

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