« Return to this article

Know the West

Sanctuary movement revives


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Cochise County is nothing if not a place of extremes. The county's small towns are bastions of the black-helicopter set, but the old copper-mining burg of Bisbee was taken over by artists, hippies and long-haired drug runners in the 1970s.

Today, even Bisbee is showing signs of the new prosperity: Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, a business incubator, lovely inns, an elegant restaurant or two.

Alexis Claire runs the travel agency, one of two businesses with signs in their windows saying, "We Will Not Cooperate With the INS." Tucson attorneys Jesus Romo and Isabel Garcia defended Claire in a Sanctuary trial ten years ago, after she was accused of smuggling political refugees into the country. Claire says the old underground railroad of the Sanctuary movement, which helped Central American refugees escape their repressive governments, is being reactivated as the pressure increases on the Arizona border.

"I think a lot of people are just starting to help migrants on their own," says Claire. "It's both organized and unorganized. I think we might look over our shoulders and worry a little. But we know what we're doing is right."

Claire says the Border Patrol has created a chaotic situation in Cochise County, then used the chaos to justify a huge buildup of personnel and equipment, in effect militarizing the border.

Certainly, the number of Border Patrol officers has increased dramatically. In 1996, with the strong backing of Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Congress required that the Border Patrol add 1,000 officers annually for five years, approximately doubling the force nationwide to almost 9,000. To truly control the border, one officer said, the Border Patrol would have to double their forces yet again.

The authorities aren't cracking down on U.S. citizens who break the law by helping the travelers. Not yet. But Claire doesn't seem intimidated.

"I went to Ellis Island this summer and felt all the ghosts," says Claire, who grew up in Queens, N.Y. "Giving people a chance to better themselves is what this country is all about. I don't discriminate when I help people."

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Susan Zakin