Not long ago, my morning walk in Arizona’s Santa Cruz River Valley was rudely interrupted. I’d been walking my dogs in the usually silent valley.
Suddenly, I heard the drone of an airplane. Irritated, I looked up to see a Border Patrol airplane drop down to circle just south of Palo Parado Road. Since my home is only 14 miles north of Mexico, I knew a drama would unfold. Sure enough, within 15 minutes, three Border Patrol vans sped up.
Somewhat nervously, I called my dogs to come sit by my side. We then watched the vans bump south on the dirt road alongside the Union Pacific railroad tracks.
A short time later, a van emerged out of clouds of dust to cough up its magnificent catch: two small, brown-skinned, and very frightened border trespassers. They wore the classic uniform of illegal migrants: dark blue T-shirts and blue jeans, tattered white sneakers on their feet. Baseball caps worn backwards rested on their heads.
As I watched, I found myself trying to tally up the costs of an airplane and three vans, plus the salaries of a pilot and six Border Patrol agents. I’m certain the Border Patrol spent many thousands of dollars to nab those two fellows.
That money is among the billions the federal government has been spending over the years to fortify our border. During the years I’ve lived here in Rio Rico, Ariz., the Border Patrol’s budget has more than tripled. But the number of undocumented migrants successfully crossing the border keeps increasing. At the same time, the number of people dying in the attempt also keeps increasing. In Arizona’s southern desert, the Associated Press reports, more than 200 illegal immigrants have died this year, "straining" the capacity of our county morgue.
Meanwhile, Mario Villarreal, a spokesman for the Border Patrol, said in Tucson's Arizona Daily Star: "We feel we have become extremely effective in border enforcement." From my point of view, Mr. Villareal’s feelings are pure fantasy.
But I’m not surprised by his comment. After all, the Border Patrol has always been slick with its statistics. For example, it reported 1.4 million "apprehensions" last year here in my Tucson sector alone. But in fact, its "apprehensions" of border trespassers may have been as few as 400,000 actual human beings.
The Border Patrol knows that far more than one-third of the migrants it shovels back to Mexico turn right around to try again — most often the very next day. I know this to be true on the ground, since most of the migrants I meet down in the river valley are recaptures.
Some even tell me that when they are caught again, border agents address them by their first names.
Still, the Border Patrol has been steadfast in its refusal to discount its recaptures, and there is good reason for that. The total of 1.4 million apprehensions surely impressed Washington politicians and bureaucrats and induces them to shovel ever more money to the Border Patrol.
Then, there’s the news report I read in the Arizona Republic. It seems that the University of California surveyed 603 migrants from Mexico’s Jalisco and Zacatecas states, the areas known to send most of the border trespassers coming to the United States. (I’ve met quite a few Jaliscans and Zacatecans on my morning walks.)
The university’s survey found that 92 percent of the Jaliscans and Zacatecans questioned claimed that they made is into this country within five tries, while "only 8 percent failed to get in and went back home."
Think about that statistic and the spurious claim of the Border Patrol that border enforcement has become "effective." The truth is this: So long as jobs are here that Americans refuse to do for the pay offered, people will cross the border to find work. Illegals will find the network that leads them to jobs, and employers will not hesitate to hire them. Deterrence does not work now, nor has it worked for a long time.
And what of those two frightened fellows whose capture I witnessed? Did they try to cross again the next morning? Of course, they did. With a 92 percent guarantee of success, I surely would. Wouldn’t you?
Jack McGarvey is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He lives and writes in Rio Rico, Arizona.
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