The fourteenth century Spanish explorer Coronado crossed present-day Arizona seeking the seven mythical cities of Cibola. Today his steps are retraced by thousands of illegal immigrants heading north to America to find their own paradise. Just north of the border, places like Tonto Canyon, California Gulch and Sycamore Canyon have become leading entry points for tens of thousands of illegals each year.
Along the southwestern tip of California beckons the immigrants' Cibola: Arizona's Yuma County; a dangerous gateway for both migrants and drug smugglers. There they find less scrutiny than the old southern California routes, now lined with razor wire, stadium-style lighting and an increased border patrol presence that has diverted the rising tide of illegals.
Settlers following Coronado's path recognized Yuma for its prime location to cross the Colorado River into California. Trade routes have flourished there ever since. Smugglers, or “coyotes,” take advantage of this natural crossing point to guide migrants to California, enduring Yuma's incredible heat. Last year over 145 illegals died making the perilous crossing through the Arizona desert. As of this May, 47 more met this fate, twice the amount during the same period in 2002.
The natural beauty of this land has become despoiled with migrant litter and downtrodden from their careless treks through protected vegetation. Often polluted with human waste from migrants, what few creeks and streams remain are rendered useless.
Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) requested an inquiry last year to determine the extent of the damage. The picture painted by the joint INS, Interior Department and the EPA report was not pretty:
· “The character of Congressionally designated wilderness areas has been reduced by the creation of unwanted trails and roads, damage to existing trails and large amounts of trash. Encounters with large groups of undocumented aliens reduces the quality of the wilderness experience for many visitors.”
· “Warming and cooking fires built and abandoned by undocumented aliens have caused wildfires that have destroyed valuable natural and cultural resources. The fires pose a threat to visitors, residents, and federal and local firefighters, as well as to the undocumented aliens camping in or migrating through the area.”
· “Gates are rammed, security locks are cut, signs are driven over, and heavy damage or destruction of water developments and other improvements by undocumented aliens traveling through federal lands and seeking drinking water in remote locations occur regularly. Recreational, cultural, and administrative sites are repeatedly vandalized and damaged.”
· “Literally hundreds, if not a thousand or more, new trails have been created on federal lands in southeastern Arizona by undocumented alien crossings. And more and more trails are being created by the hundreds of thousands that cross federal lands in southeast Arizona each year. This proliferation of trails damages and destroys cactus and other sensitive vegetation, disrupts or prohibits revegetation, disturbs wildlife and their cover and travel routes, causes soil compaction and erosion, impacts stream bank stability, and often times confuses legitimate users of trails on federal lands.”
Additionally, recent reports abound of hikers accosted by groups of illegals, some acting as "mules," carrying drugs from Central and South America. Migrants often smuggle the contraband as payment for the coyotes' services and their guides are often armed for this reason.
Larger in area than Connecticut, Yuma boasts an annual permanent residency of only 135,000. The manpower-strapped immigration enforcement agents provide scant surveillance over this expansive land with its ranches, national parks and sparse population.
Incensed with lawmakers’ seeming indifference and limited federal resources, private citizens have begun to take action against what they can only perceive as an invasion of their property by forming their own border patrol groups.
Founded in January by retired California school teacher Chris Simcox, the Civil Home Defense Corps (CHD) is the newest citizen border patrol group. At 42, the CHD head also runs the Tombstone Tumbleweed a small newspaper. Through its pages he rallies the local concerned citizens. The Tombstone-based organization has grown rapidly with local ranchers and others taking to the hills and canyons, armed with maps, cell phones and cameras seeking to document and report the incursion of migrants into their home.
Other private groups such as the Texas-based Ranch Rescue (with chapters in six states) and the American Border Patrol out of southeastern Arizona seek to plug the holes in our country's porous borders. Frustrated with the level of smuggling -- both of people and drugs -- running through their communities, they see themselves no differently than community watch groups common to most urban areas.
“We're doing what President George W. Bush has told us to do. We're volunteering to help protect our country,” Simcox told the Yuma Sun. “We want to help (the Border Patrol) get the job done until our government has the will to give them the manpower and the equipment that they need to do the job.”
CHD pledges to use “legal means” to stop “illegal aliens, drug traffickers and terrorists from entering the United States by physical presence along the immediate U.S. Mexican border.”
Since it’s founding, CHD has patrolled the border in neighboring Cochise County. Simcox says CHD has reported hundreds of illegals to the Border Patrol. Thus far the well organized group has operated without serious incident, and they believe they can make a difference in the Yuma area despite the growing tensions there.
CHD moved into Yuma following the July 31 arrests of Alexander Dumas and Matthew Hoffman, who stand accused of unlawfully detaining six illegals (three women with their three children) and their 16-year-old smuggler on federal land. Attorneys for the aliens contend the men handcuffed and held them at gunpoint. Originally facing six counts of aggravated assault, five counts of unlawful imprisonment and one count of conspiracy to commit unlawful imprisonment, Dumas and Hoffman pleaded to the one count of conspiracy on August 21. They have been released pending sentencing September 19.
By their own admission, Dumas and Hoffman's illegals were all en route to stay with relatives in New York City but after the incident returned to Mexico. Their husbands had been caught in a prior attempted border crossing and were deported. The combined events convinced one of the women, Lorena Ocampo, not to try illegal entry into the states again. However she has vowed to return to Yuma to testify against the men at any future trial.
Though not affiliated with CHD, Simcox says Dumas and Hoffman have become heroes to locals fed up with failed immigration policies. Since their arrests, Simcox said he has received offers from as many as 100 volunteers to participate in CHD's armed border patrols in Yuma, which he says will be fully-operable by October.
Simcox has acknowledged the unusual nature of their mission, stating, “Our government should be patrolling this country. But it isn’t. We're just gonna have to do it ourselves.”
Chorus of Dissent
However these groups have come under fire from organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other pro-illegal immigration groups. Citing incidents like the one in Yuma, they denounce the “vigilantism” they say ads to the border's natural lawlessness.
A May 2003 ADL report claimed links between the border patrol groups and the white supremacist movement. “The Arizona border has become the flashpoint for America’s far-right anti-immigration movement,” wrote ADL Arizona Regional Director Bill Strauss. “Anti-immigration groups are engaged in a campaign of vigilantism and intimidation, and their ideology has all the hallmarks of the hateful rhetoric promoted by anti-Semites and racists. We are greatly concerned that the collusion of anti-immigration groups and their extremist sympathizers are contributing to the growing climate of intolerance, lawlessness and violence along the Arizona-Mexico border.”
While ADL acknowledges that American Border Patrol head Glenn Spencer categorically denies being a racist or supporting racist causes, their report links the acceptance of his message by those who do harbor racist beliefs as proof of guilt by association. Spencer's claim that the growing invasion of the U.S. has been encouraged by the Mexican government—a fact borne out by the Mexican issuance and demanded acceptance of Matricular ID cards along with endless calls by President Vincente Fox for guest worker amnesty—is dismissed by the ADL as a “conspiracy theory.”
The report highlights the arrest of two Ranch Rescue members last March for allegedly detaining a pair of Salvadorans caught crossing through a ranch in Hebbronville, TX. A large online movement has sprung up defending these men and what many call “trumped up” charges against them. With that exception, the group has operated since 2000 without incident.
Ranch Rescue’s mission statement makes clear that they are not a white supremacy group. The ADL report freely admits “Ranch Rescue describes itself as a volunteer network dedicated to defending private property rights for all Americans, regardless of race, color, creed or religion.” Yet in the next breath they declare Ranch Rescue a racist, anti-Semitic, anti-government group.
The report makes no attempt to label CHD as a racist front. However they do point to the “possible” advisory role RR and ABP have played in helping Simcox with its organization as a red flag.
“Our approach to fighting illegal immigration isn’t racially or ethnically motivated...When [opponents] try to make me out to be a racist; I show them a picture of my African-American son. I show them the pictures of the children I have taught over the past 15 years,” Simcox told the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) in a recent address. “I tell them I was head of the diversity committee at my school. They then kick the dirt and say, 'Darn, we can't call him that.' They've run out of things to call us, except good Americans.”
But Simcox stressed that illegals were also human beings. For that reason he asks that CHD members be qualified in first aid “to be able to assist any illegal alien ...who may be in need.”
ADL points out those CHD members must possess a concealed carry weapon (CCW) certificate. But the report fails to mention the reasons behind it.
“One of the primary reasons for the CCW stipulation is the government background check and finger printing to ensure that all volunteers have no criminal records,” the CHD website explains. “Visible, non-threatening deterrence is ... the major tenet. The CCW permit is required because weapons are NOT to be visible at any time. No threatening or aggressive posture is to be portrayed. The only purpose for weapons, which will be concealed at all times, is purely for self-defense. Both the concealed weapons and the accompanying ammunition will be of the type normally associated with self-defense. No exotic ammunitions, extra-capacity magazines or weapons will be carried.”
Undeterred, the ADL report issued several charges against CHD.
“Simcox has blamed the federal government and U.S. Border Patrol for failing to stop the flood of immigrants funneling through Cochise County,” the report stated. This is offered as proof of CHD's “anti-government” agenda.
The report further claims Simcox “engaged in bizarre conspiracy theories, including the notion that the Mexican Army is using Chinese troops and weaponry.”
While Simcox’s concerns may be reactionary, they are far from being “paranoid” as state-owned Chinese companies with a history of arms dealing have been making overtures in Central and South America, including a Washington Times report of weapons shipments to Cuba and Venezuela and the well documented ChiCom take over of the Panama Canal. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer has expressed similar concerns. China's interest in the Americas should be a concern to all.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Morris Dees also leveled charges of racism against ABP. Dees once claimed a racist cartoon was posted on the ABP website, although Spencer insists no such cartoon was ever used. But Dees's own reputation is checkered with allegations of bribing witnesses and suborning perjury. His credibility in the area of anti-illegal immigration groups has come into question.
The Border Action Network (BAN), a radical pro-immigration organization based in Tucson, Douglas and Nogales, Arizona “works with Latino and Mexican communities throughout southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico.” They engage in plaintiff farming in the region, seeking illegal aliens who may have been in contact with civilian border patrol groups for costly class action lawsuits. Lawyers for the group claim that these civilians have no right to detain illegals invading their country. Accusations of harassment, robbery and assault abound, although to date no plaintiffs have surfaced and no lawsuits been filed.
Citing their cause as one of social justice, BAN has been vocal in their call to end the “vigilantism.” They are concerned that the citizens who monitor and patrol the border are endangering themselves and the lives of the migrants. Characterizing the civilian patrol’s actions as “hunting” for illegals, BAN warns that a violent confrontation is imminent. Yet they actively resist reforms that would lessen the need for citizen patrols.
When the U.S. Border Patrol proposed walling off approximately three-quarters of the Arizona border, BAN protested. They cited humanitarian grounds for their disapproval, claiming the danger to endangered species would make any such efforts a hazard eclipsing any ill-effects of the illegal alien invasion.
Jesus Romo, an immigration rights activist lawyer from Tucson involved with BAN explained the strategy “to get at their pocketbook.”
“Our purpose is to bankrupt these individuals so that they stop their actions,” Romo said. Following the classic trial lawyer model, BAN has begun using Spanish language television commercials and print advertisements along the entire U.S. Mexican border. They have even run spots in Mexico itself, concentrating on illegals' areas of origin in hopes of finding “victims.”
Mexican consular, Miguel Escobar fears that the deportation and intimidation of the migrants from the efforts of citizen border groups will make finding people to testify difficult.
Finding Common Ground
Humane Borders, a faith based group working along the U.S. Mexican border encourages illegal immigration, providing water and food to those who “are risking their lives and safety crossing the United States border with Mexico.” Their mission statement goes on to state their encouragement of a non-militarized border and “legalized work opportunities for migrants.” Though they claim they are opposed to open borders, their well intentioned actions do little to discourage the ongoing invasion.
Despite their contradictory stand, Simcox sees an opportunity to work with this humanitarian group. He has suggested an alliance with Humane Borders to protect the safety and health of illegals, however Robin Hoover, HB's president has expressed reservations. “Simcox says that he has encountered young and old while patrolling and that he has carried in water, but our concerns are that his patrols are armed,” Hoover told the Sierra Times. “Migrants are already weary of armed persons in the desert.”
Simcox is hopeful of a future working arrangement with Humane Borders noting they have turned over undocumented migrants to the Border Patrol in the past. “They assured me that they are not out to break the law. I have had conversations with Robin, and the only bone of contention he has is the fact that members of Civil Homeland Defense carry guns.”
As Simcox told the Sierra Times, “Our volunteers are interested in saving lives and if an illegal migrant has been abused or abandoned by an unscrupulous people smuggler, we will be there to help. We want migrants to seek help, even if it means they will be turned over to Border Patrol. At least they won't die.”