Badlands: From Ground Zero of the Immigration Crisis Along the Mexican Border

Tougher border enforcement in California and Texas has spelled disaster for southern Arizona

According to the Hunts, Marquez remained courteous to the end, apologizing for the "inconvenience" and asking them to jot down their address so he could reimburse them later.

The couple freed themselves after a while and contacted the Cochise County sheriff's office. Deputies responded and issued an all-points bulletin.

An officer with the New Mexico Motor Transportation Division spotted the stolen vehicle within an hour after it had crossed into his state, and the men were soon arrested in Lordsburg.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever at the fence near Naco: "There are good people coming over here looking for jobs, I understand that. But bad guys are coming in and will continue to come in."
Paul Rubin
Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever at the fence near Naco: "There are good people coming over here looking for jobs, I understand that. But bad guys are coming in and will continue to come in."
Janet Napolitano: "The border is as secure as it's ever been."
Janet Napolitano: "The border is as secure as it's ever been."

Eriberto Marquez's perspective comes from the Arizona State Prison in Yuma, where he is serving 12 years for kidnapping and car theft (the same term as his co-conspirator, Chavira-Morquecho):

"We had walked for five days, and we ran out of food and hadn't eaten for a couple of days. We decided to break into a home. We planned to grab food and a car and leave. I wasn't planning to hurt anyone. They were nice people. I know they won't feel safe anymore. I hope they forgive me."

*     *     *

It is dusk on a gorgeous spring day in Cochise County, and Sheriff's Deputy Joe Gilbert is on patrol in the Bisbee area.

Gilbert is 26 and has been with the agency since June 2006. He is a strapping guy with an earnest and unthreatening manner that usually wins him points with the public, even those unhappy at getting stopped.

The deputy is one of just two currently on duty in the Bisbee district. The pair is responsible for patrolling an area about the size of Rhode Island, about 1,000 square miles.

Gilbert lives in nearby Tombstone, the town where he was raised. He says he considers police work something he was born to do and something he loves.

He drives into Naco, a border town dominated by ramshackle mobile homes and a Port of Entry on the border. Gilbert passes by a government yard protected by barbed wife. Several confiscated vehicles sit there, their seats, engines and undercarriages ripped out by agents.

"Dope cars," he explains.

Gilbert sticks some smokeless tobacco in his lower gum and gestures to the Naco Elementary School, a stone's throw from Mexico.

"That's where they dumped dope for a long time, there in the yard," he says. "The thinking was that Border Patrol couldn't enter school grounds chasing after UDAs [undocumented aliens]. The bad guys would wait awhile, and then someone would pick up the stuff and split."

The deputy drives onto the dirt road that runs parallel to the border fence for miles and miles on either side of the town. Green-and-white Border Patrol vehicles come into view every few minutes, parked on the road or patrolling in both directions.

As a brilliant Cochise County sunset fades into darkness, Gilbert spots some Border Patrol vehicles parked in the brush just off the road. They are no more than 200 feet from the fence and less than a mile from the Border Patrol station in Naco.

Several agents have surrounded a group of about 20 people standing side by side. Each—including a little boy clinging to a diminutive, dark-skinned woman—looks as blue as the darkening sky above.

Here they stand, illegal as can be, after an undoubtedly dangerous and rigorous trek from, in this instance, southern Mexico, one that has ended abruptly, just steps inside the United States.

Some grip the plastic garbage bags that hold their worldly belongings and stare blankly into space. One by one, they are directed into the rear of a packed van, from which they'll be taken to a holding tank.

Eventually, they will be deported.

The scene, repeated daily in various forms all over the Tucson Sector, triggers a series of thoughts from Gilbert.

"It takes courage tromping through this desert for days, knowing you can die at any point in the heat or cold or at the hands of a coyote," he says. "It's against the law, but that doesn't stop them. Sometimes, they get deported really fast, but then I might see them again a few days later—like they never left."

In other words, they turn around and come right back over, desperate to take another run at a new life.

Gilbert shares a story as he continues to patrol: A small group of undocumented aliens were huddling in the mountains a few miles from the Bisbee sheriff's substation (where the county jail is located) when one of them desperately contacted the sheriff's office.

"One of their family members who was coming across was really sick with diabetes, and they were very upset," the deputy says.

"I called Border Patrol, which has a team that helps people in need—and I went out there, too. Picture someone's uncle or grandfather. He had on a suit jacket or something. He looked decent—not a criminal—trying to make a better life. It came down to this. He was dead. I still feel sorry for him."

*     *     *

Dever is back in Arizona, one day after his April 20 testimony before the U.S. Senate.

He drives over to the Turquoise Valley Golf Course in Naco, where the Sierra Vista Chamber of Commerce is holding a breakfast meeting.

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