An Arizona mayor condemns the New West's thirst for servants

  • Ray Borane


Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to another article,"Battered borderlands."

Ray Borane, mayor of Douglas, Ariz., from a letter to the Aspen Daily News, dated July 8, 1999:

"The U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended and expelled from our area more than 200,000 illegal aliens since the beginning of the year, 60,500 in March alone. Do you have any idea the devastating impact such numbers have had on our city and surrounding area, all because you provide jobs for illegal aliens?

"When you hire illegal aliens because you have forgotten, or never knew how, to make your own beds, mow your own lawns and cook your own meals, it causes our open fields to be littered with thousands of plastic water jugs and pieces of clothing. It means ranchers' water lines are cut and their cattle die from ingesting discarded plastic.

"When you hire illegal aliens, our elderly are forced to live in constant fear because of the marauding hordes who trespass their homes and properties every night.

"When you hire illegal aliens to work in your homes, hotels, restaurants, landscaping businesses, fields, orchards, factories and construction crews, our property values plunge because of the huge numbers of people who trample over our land.

"Can you even begin to fathom the arduous, debasing journey these people travel for the opportunity to manicure your gardens, wash your dishes, build your homes and make up your hotel rooms? Would you place your loved ones at risk for this?

"I am reminded with great angst and disgust of our nation's darkest hour, when slavery bettered life for a few at the cost of many. The Underground Railroad was a system of tunnels and networks that took people from the shackles of slavery in the South to freedom in the North. Thousands of slaves considered the Underground Railroad the light at the end of the tunnel.

"Today, you have created the reverse. People are transported by networks of traffickers, commonly known as polleros or coyotes, from freedom in the South to slavery in the North.

"The people who comprise the Underground Network think nothing of placing a price on a human life. Undocumented aliens will hand their entire life savings to thieves. Rounded up as cattle at night, they will be thrown into the darkness where many are robbed, assaulted and raped, and children are lost.

"Polleros and coyotes will stuff 20 people in a room with no restroom facilities as a staging area in our sister city of Agua Prieta, Mexico. Vans will transport them in conditions intolerable for even animals. Some will suffocate or die in rollovers as drivers attempt to outrun the U.S. Border Patrol. Just last week, 12 were injured in such an accident and had to be transported to the hospital in critical condition.

"Those who did not pay to be smuggled in will attempt to cross the scorching heat of the desert. Ranchers and immigration officials find men, women and children dead of heat exhaustion. In the last month, five aliens died near our border from exposure.

"Once, slaves and people who aided them risked their lives for freedom. Today, the undocumented alien risks his life and the lives of his family for poor living conditions and a job that often pays less than minimum wage. This Underground Network ends right at your community's doorstep.

"Border areas such as ours have reached a point where compassion will reach its limits. Strained by the monetary tolls, mental fears and real threats, ranchers and other citizens have begun to respond; it's an armed response. This is not the answer, but a despairing reality we will live.

"I urge you to understand the plight of these poor souls. You only hurt by employing these people. They are responding to your insatiable demand for their cheap and unregulated services.

"Let us legalize this labor. Legalizing their work will put them on a level playing field with others making decent wages. They will come out of the darkness of their illegality and be treated humanely."