News Article

Who left the door open?

By Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, TIME Magazine

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The next time you pass through an airport and have to produce a photo ID to establish who you are and then must remove your shoes, take off your belt, empty your pockets, prove your laptop is not an explosive device and send your briefcase or purse through a machine to determine whether it holds weapons, think about this: In a single day, more than 4,000 illegal aliens will walk across the busiest unlawful gateway into the U.S., the 375-mile border between Arizona and Mexico. No searches for weapons. No shoe removal. No photo-ID checks. Before long, many will obtain phony identification papers, including bogus Social Security numbers, to conceal their true identities and mask their unlawful presence.

The influx is so great, the invaders seemingly trip over one another as they walk through the old copper-mining town turned artist colony of Bisbee (pop. 6,000), five miles from the border. Having eluded the U.S. border patrol, they arrive in small groups of three or four, larger contingents of more than a dozen and sometimes packs of a hundred. Worried citizens who spot them keep the Bisbee police officers and Cochise County sheriff's deputies busy tracking down all the trespassing aliens. At night as many as 100 will take over a vacant house. Some crowd into motel rooms, even storage- compartment rental units. During the day, they congregate on school playgrounds, roam through backyards and pass in and out of apartment buildings. Some assemble at the Burger King, waiting for their assigned drivers to appear. Sometimes stolen cars are waiting for them, keys on the floor. But most continue walking to designated pickup points beyond Bisbee, where they will ride in thousands of stolen vehicles, often with the seats ripped out to accommodate more human cargo, on the next leg of their journey to big cities and small towns from California to North Carolina.

The U.S.'s borders, rather than becoming more secure since 9/11, have grown even more porous. And the trend has accelerated in the past year. It's fair to estimate, based on a TIME investigation, that the number of illegal aliens flooding into the U.S. this year will total 3 million—enough to fill 22,000 Boeing 737-700 airliners, or 60 flights every day for a year. It will be the largest wave since 2001 and roughly triple the number of immigrants who will come to the U.S. by legal means. (No one knows how many illegals are living in the U.S., but estimates run as high as 15 million.)

Who are these new arrivals? While the vast majority are Mexicans, a small but sharply growing number come from other countries, including those with large populations hostile to the U.S. From Oct. 1 of last year until Aug. 25, along the southwest border, the border patrol estimates that it apprehended 55,890 people who fall into the category described officially as other than Mexicans, or OTMS. With five weeks remaining in the fiscal year, the number is nearly double the 28,048 apprehended in all of 2002. But that's just how many were caught. TIME estimates, based on longtime government formulas for calculating how many elude capture, that as many as 190,000 illegals from countries other than Mexico have melted into the U.S. population so far this year. The border patrol, which is run by the Department of Homeland Security, refuses to break down OTMS by country. But local law officers, ranchers and others who confront the issue daily tell TIME they have encountered not only a wide variety of Latin Americans (from Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Nicaragua and Venezuela) but also intruders from Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Russia and China as well as Egypt, Iran and Iraq. Law-enforcement authorities believe the mass movement of illegals, wherever they are from, offers the perfect cover for terrorists seeking to enter the U.S., especially since tighter controls have been imposed at airports.

Who's to blame for all the intruders? While the growing millions of illegal aliens cross the border on their own two feet, the problem is one of the U.S.'s own making. The government doesn't want to fix it, and politicians, as usual, are dodging the issue, even though public-opinion polls show that Americans overwhelmingly favor a crackdown on illegal immigration....

...Rancher George Morin, who operates a 12,000-acre spread a few miles from the border, tells TIME, "All these people say they are coming for the amnesty program.

[They] have been told if they get 10 miles off the border, they are home free."

The border patrol, by nature an earnest and hard-working corps, is no match for the onslaught. From last October through Aug. 25, it apprehended nearly 1.1 million illegals in all its operations around the U.S. But for every person it picks up, at least three make it into the country safely. The number of agents assigned to the 1,951-mile southern border has grown only somewhat, to more than 9,900 today, up from 8,600 in 2000....

On the Mexican side of the border, President Vicente Fox has actively encouraged the migration. He made his goal clear in 2000 when he called for a fully open border within 10 years, with "a free flow of people, workers" moving between the two countries. When U.S. opposition to the proposal intensified after 9/11, Fox sought the same goal through the back door....

Because of the exploding illegal population, the money sent back represents the third largest source of revenue in Mexico's economy, trailing only oil and manufacturing. That figure reached a record $13 billion last year....

Living in the War Zone

When the crowds cross the ranches along and near the border, they discard backpacks, empty Gatorade and water bottles and soiled clothes. They turn the land into a vast latrine, leaving behind revolting mounds of personal refuse and enough discarded plastic bags to stock a Wal-Mart. Night after night, they cut fences intended to hold in cattle and horses. Cows that eat the bags must often be killed because the plastic becomes lodged between the first and second stomachs. The immigrants steal vehicles and saddles. They poison dogs to quiet them. The illegal traffic is so heavy that some ranchers, because of the disruptions and noise, get very little sleep at night.

John Ladd Jr., a thoughtful, soft-spoken rancher just outside Bisbee, gives new meaning to the word stoic. He is forced to work the equivalent of several weeks a year to repair, as best he can, all the damage done to his property by never-ending swarms of illegal aliens.

"Patience is my forte," he says, "but it's getting lower." The 14,000-acre Ladd ranch, in his mother's family since the 1800s, is right on the border. Ladd and his wife and three sons as well as his father and mother have their homes there. The largely flat, scrub-covered piece of real estate, with its occasional groves of cottonwoods, spiny mesquite and clumps of sacaton grass and desert broom, seems to offer few places to hide. But the land is laced with arroyos in which scores of people can disappear from view. Ditches provide trails from the border to Highway 92, a distance of about three miles. That is the route that Ladd says 200 to 300 illegals take every night as they enter the U.S. They punch holes in the barbed-wire border fence and then tear up the many fences intended to separate the breeding cattle—Brahmin, Angus and Hereford—that divide the Ladd land.

Ladd doesn't blame the border patrol, most of whose officers, he says, are doing all they can under the circumstances. Indeed, apprehensions of illegals in Arizona have soared from 9% of the nation's total in 1993 to 51% this year. "I have real heartache for the agents who are really working," he says. "They track down the [smugglers], and the judges let them off, and they get a free trip back to Mexico, where they can start all over." The border-patrol agents, Ladd feels, "are responsible guys in a hypocritical bureaucracy."

Border crossing at the Ladd ranch is so flagrant that sometimes the illegals arrive by taxi. A dirt road parallels the border fence and the Ladd property for several miles, in full view of border-patrol electronic lookout posts that ceased functioning long ago. When drivers reach an appropriate location, passengers pile out and run through one of the many holes in the fence and make their way across the ranch...

While the Department of Homeland Security seemingly lacks the money to secure the border, it does have money to spend in quixotic ways.

In a $13 million experimental program started in July, the border patrol will not just drop illegal Mexican aliens at the border but actually fly them, at taxpayer expense, into the heart of Mexico. The theory is that it will discourage them from making the trek north again. But as one illegal, a Dallas construction worker who was among the 138 aboard the first flight, told a Los Angeles Times reporter, "I will be going back in 15 days. I need to work. The jobs in Mexico don't pay anything."

The plight of Jim Dickson, a hospital administrator in Bisbee, is summed up with one image. It's an ambulance that pulls into tiny Copper Queen Community Hospital and discharges illegal aliens injured in an auto accident. The border-patrol officers—on orders from Washington—have refused to take them onto the hospital property after taking them into custody. Instead, the officers have called an ambulance for the injured. If the officers were to arrive at the hospital to make their drop-off, then the border patrol (make that the U.S. government) would be responsible for paying the medical bill. And that's something the Federal Government (make that Congress) will not do. Instead, the government stiffs Dickson, 56, the genial CEO of the Copper Queen, a hospital that dates back to the turn of the previous century, when Bisbee was the largest town between San Diego and St. Louis, Mo.

Dickson and his community hospital symbolize much of what has gone wrong with the immigration policies of the U.S. and Mexico—"the irresponsibility," as Dickson puts it politely, of both governments.

He figures he has another three years, maybe a little longer, before he might be forced to shut down the hospital. "We used to have 250 emergency-room visits a month. Now it's 500," says Dickson....

The limits of compassion are also being tested on the Tohono O'odham Nation. About twice the size of Delaware, the tribe's reservation shares 65 miles of border with Mexico. Like the residents of the small Arizona towns just to the east, the Native Americans, many of whom live without running water and electricity, are overwhelmed. The Nation's hospital is often packed with migrants who become dehydrated while crossing the scorching desert, where summertime temperatures reach upwards of 110(degree). The undermanned tribal police force helps the border patrol round up as many as 1,500 illegals a day. "If this were happening in any other city or part of the country," says Vivian Juan-Saunders, Tohono O'odham chairwoman, "it would be considered a crisis."

Yet the highest levels of the U.S. and Mexican governments have orchestrated this situation as a kind of dance: Mexico sends its poor north to take jobs illegally, and the U.S. arrests enough of the border crossers to create the illusion that it is enforcing the immigration laws while allowing the great majority to get through....

For nearly 20 years, it has been a crime to hire illegal aliens. Amid an earlier surge in illegal immigration, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which provided that employers could be fined up to $10,000 for every illegal alien they hired, and repeat offenders could be sent to jail. The act was a response to the widespread belief that employer sanctions were the only way to stem the tide....

But companies had little to fear. Neither Reagan nor subsequent Presidents or Congresses were eager to enforce the law....

Why Alien Criminals Are at Large in the U.S.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of having 15 million [to perhaps 38 million] illegals at large in society is Congress's failure to insist that federal agencies separate those who pose a threat from those who don't. The open borders, for example, allow illegals to come into the country, commit crimes and return home with little fear of arrest or punishment.

From Oct. 1, 2003, until July 20, 2004, the border patrol's Tucson sector stopped 9,051 persons crossing into the country illegally who had criminal records in the U.S., meaning they committed crimes here, returned to Mexico, then were trying to re-enter the country. Among them: 378 with active warrants for their arrest. In one week, said border-patrol spokeswoman Andrea Zortman, there were two with outstanding "warrants for homicide."...

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