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for people who care about the West

If Pedro needed help, I would have given it


Last September, while on an early morning walk with my dogs, I spotted an orange knapsack on a steep west bank of the Santa Cruz River here in Rio Rico, Ariz. I also saw two baseball caps lying near the water's edge.

I waded across the foul-smelling river and opened the orange knapsack. Inside, I found clean clothing and a half-consumed liter of a Mexican brand of bottled water. I then unzipped a side pocket to find a plastic bag of fresh, plump jalapeños. One jalapeño had just been bitten in half.

I probed into another pocket to find a wallet into which was tucked a religious tract. Around its edges was a note written in Spanish: "My Friend: Please, when you find this note, call my Mama." The note was signed, "Muchas Gracias, Pedro."

There were several long strings of telephone numerals around the tract's edges, but most were stateside numbers. But I recognized the city code of Oaxaca, Mexico, where I'd lived a few months. Other than the tract, the wallet was empty. I keep finding such discarded knapsacks, and I've become obsessed with figuring out why they were left behind. Maybe this one was discarded when its owner and his pal were chased by the U.S. Border Patrol. Maybe that's why they fled west across the river, their beloved baseball caps blowing off as they ran.

Perhaps, Mama's son shucked off his orange knapsack at the top of the bank so he and his pal could more easily move through the thick growth of brush. They may have been captured there, because most weary Mexican migrants are no match for Border Patrol agents who leap off all-terrain vehicles.

But maybe they hadn't been captured, since I see so few agents in the Santa Cruz River Valley. Maybe they fled when they'd seen me and my two dogs. And so, I called out, "buenos días!" to no response.

My dogs and I then waded back across the river where we found wet socks, which are a migrant's most critical piece of clothing. Wet socks make bloody blisters. I'm sure Pedro trespassed here for a job at substandard wages, perhaps in Tucson's booming construction industry or maybe to tend some of Tucson's splendid gardens.

But how could I possibly heed Pedro's plea to call his mother? What could I possibly say in my far from perfect Spanish to comfort her when she'll be so worried about her son's whereabouts?

If Pedro failed to find work in Tucson, I'm certain that he and his pal migrated farther north to harvest autumn produce at the huge farms at Eloy, Ariz. If they failed to find work there, they might head all the way off to Delaware to pluck its chickens. Should they do that, they'll be helped along the way by a brother or a cousin working there and using Western Union to wire them money.

To me, knapsacks and discarded socks symbolize the ugly reality of our huge problem with illegal migration. That reality is the wicked combination of "push and pull." The "push" is Mexico's worsening poverty, and its youths taking dangerous risks to help the family out. The "pull" — which most Americans would dearly love to wish away — are the hundreds of thousands of low wage jobs beckoning north of the border.

It's now March, a ripe illegal-migration season. And, despite our spending millions upon millions for more Border Patrol agents and to install expensive electronic gadgetry in the rugged mountains that frame my border with Mexico, I've been seeing lots of footprints in the valley.

There's really no way to keep out Pedro and the half-million others who come through our southern border each year. Not until we acknowledge the "push," and especially, the obnoxious "pull."

Meanwhile, I keep reading that Mexico's evil Pedro is snatching jobs away from Americans. I doubt that: I have yet to meet any job-hungry Americans eager to pick cantaloupes in the fields of Eloy, Ariz., during the hideously hot month of June. Even If they did, they will never work as hard and skillfully as would Pedro from Oaxaca. As U.S. employers clearly know, trespassing Mexicans are indeed notorious, but only for being such superior workers.

Most illegal migrants that trespass to do very hard work are some of Mexico's best folk. That's a huge loss for Mexico, and a huge gain for the United States. Politically connected U.S. employers know that, and that's why our expensive border enforcement is such a joke.

If I had met Pedro and his pal on my last September's morning walk, I would have asked them if they needed help. I certainly would never have tattled on these two brave fellows by calling the U.S. Border Patrol.

Jack McGarvey is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives and writes in Rio Rico, Arizona.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].