Many residents question the idea of bringing Guard troops into the area. “It’s going to make people mad,” one person says.
Animas, N.M. – Delivering mail to ranchers in his gray truck,
Garland Johnson reckoned rattlesnakes soon may be the least of his
worries here amid mesquite and cactus-covered mountains near the
U.S.-Mexico border – a remote stretch where illegal immigrants,
including drug smugglers, cross at will.
President Bush’s decision to deploy National Guard soldiers to
support Border Patrol agents, Johnson feared, will bring increased
violence and suffering.
While he and others who live along the border are fed up with
illegal immigration, many questioned the effectiveness of military
methods for a problem they see as rooted in Mexican poverty.
The solution lies more “in your backyard” – cities such as Denver
and Chicago – “where the illegal immigrants find jobs, not here,”
said Johnson, 44, whose family runs cattle on 9,600 acres his
“Lining up the National Guard and Minutemen along the border isn’t
going to solve the problem,” he said. “It’s going to make people
That sort of skepticism and concern spread across the southwestern
New Mexico borderlands Tuesday, even as officials emphasized that
under Bush’s plan, 6,000 Guard members would perform only support
tasks, such as building fences and roads and conducting
surveillance – not making arrests.
For Mexican shuttle driver Arturo Hernandez, on his daily – and
legal – run from Chihuahua to Phoenix, the news about the soldiers
sounded about as appealing as two black F-16 fighter jets in
training that whooshed across the sky in front of him.
The great nation he was entering – with border authority approval –
suddenly seemed less welcoming than ever. “Not like friends,” he
Some interpreted the Bush move primarily as posturing. Yet “there
are struggling people who are dying behind this political game,”
said Lima McMillan, 55, an emergency medical technician at
Here, increased illegal immigration has led to violence. Shots
fired at the police chief outside a Family Dollar store last fall
prompted New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to declare a state of
But if soldiers are sent in to free up more border agents for
patrols, McMillan said, the intensified enforcement will drive
immigrants into dangerous desert and mountain areas to make risky
One man she treated recently had collapsed in a sun-baked field
after stepping on a mesquite stump that pierced his foot. He needed
surgery. Another was distraught because his young wife had lost
consciousness after they collapsed, dehydrated after days of
trekking from Mexico. The woman suffered brain damage that left her
unable to recognize her husband’s face, McMillan said.
“If I could, I’d give President Bush a few pictures of people who
become dehydrated – showing him what happens when their tongues are
swollen, their skin cracks and vessels break in their heads,” she
Monday night, minutes after Bush announced he would call out the
National Guard, sirens flashed and an ambulance rushed to the
border gate between Columbus and Palomas, Mexico, where a pregnant
Mexican woman had walked up to guards begging for help delivering
her baby. The ambulance carried her north to a U.S. medical center
– and the birth there gave the baby automatic U.S. citizenship.
Meanwhile, an illegal immigrant slipped across the border into the
Family Dollar store just north of the gate – the scene of last
fall’s shooting. A Border Patrol agent, who asked not to be
identified, followed the immigrant into the store. He arrested him,
verified he had no proper papers and zip-tied his wrists.
The agent carried that man and two other illegal immigrants in the
back of his white-and-green patrol wagon to a substation for
processing and deportation.
Family Dollar clerks chafe when the Border Patrol agents enter
their aisles, assistant manager José Saenz said at the cash
register. “Sometimes customers are scared,” he said.
Smugglers use the store as a pickup point where they can rendezvous
with clients and carry them north, he said.
Calling out the National Guard to beef up enforcement seems
inappropriate, Saenz said, pointing at a Border Patrol surveillance
camera already trained on the front of his store.
“It’s not a war” between the United States and Mexico, he said.
“And there’s nothing you can do about it. People will just keep