Today Janet Napolitano heads to the border amid much hype for a phony photo-op. She has invited the media to witness her triumphal arrival, and they will. Her goal is to convince you everything is fine now that she has finally allowed a few National Guardsmen from another state to do road work somewhere near the border.
But yesterday I saw the truth. While Janet Napolitano performs for the cameras today, I spent more than 7 hours yesterday covering dozens of miles of our border with a 30-year-veteran of local law enforcement. I spoke with numerous locals and long-time border community residents. And I personally observed dozens of miles of our southern border, in remote areas at night where the border patrol does not go. (The only light moments — we witnessed a number of undocumented rabbits come across the border, no doubt hoping to dig holes that American rabbits just won’t dig.)
We deliberately did not tip off federal border patrol agents that a gubernatorial candidate was touring the border. We did not ask the media to come along. According to my guide, who has been in law enforcement on the border since 1976, the last few times he has alerted federal border officials that he was conducting a tour, they have flooded the area with agents to put on a show. Instead, in an unmarked vehicle, we were largely ignored by border patrol officers in vehicles, some of whom didn’t even glance at us as they talked on the phone or read a book.
I’m not interested in phony photo-ops. I’m interested in the truth of what is happening at our border. Here is what I saw and heard:
• There is plenty of border security close to population centers, where there is a wall and bright lights. But a few miles outside of town, we traveled through remote areas of rugged terrain where federal border patrol agents do not go. In fact, one tried to deter us from going there by saying the roads were “getting slick” (there was much lightning, wind and rain in the distance). We went anyway, and the roads were completely dry.
• Even in heavily patrolled areas, there is little enforcement. We came across two young men in the road between Douglas and Bisbee who immediately leaped up and over the fence back into Mexico. They watched us drive by, flipped us off, then jumped back over onto the American side. We watched them in our rear view mirror cross the road behind us, in full view of a Border Patrol vehicle. The vehicle never moved and the young men were not confronted.
• There are walls in high-population areas. A few miles outside of town, there are barbed wire fences. You can see where they have been run over by drug runners, who are sometimes armed with AK-47s. They drop the drugs and then drive back over the border. There are also plenty of holes cut in the barbed wire fence and other large gaps where illegal aliens walk through.
• We met and heard from locals who can barely sleep at night. One ranch owner said there have been eight separate large groups of illegals who have been caught near his home and on his property within the past week. Another local has been forced to abandon her border home out of fear for her life – and she works for a local law enforcement agency. We heard stories of residents killed by drug runners, by robbers and in auto accidents with illegal aliens in crowded vehicles trying to avoid capture.
• Our guide described his work in recovering more than 100 bodies in the past few years of those who have died in the desert. “There are two who haunt me every day,” he told us. “A 14-year-old girl who was left to die and whose body was never claimed – buried under the name ‘Jane Douglas’ – and a woman 8 months pregnant who froze to death in the mountains.”
• The Minutemen have provided an effective deterrent. “When the Minutemen came last year and patrolled one corridor, there were no crossings here,” said our guide. He went on to tell us that this lonely and dangerous stretch of border – which was deserted while we were there – was patrolled back then “every 30 seconds” by federal border agents who were forced to “put on a show” by the presence of the Minutemen.
The rugged terrain of Mexico, a few feet from where we drove and walked, was frequently lit up by flashes of lightning. There is an unsettled, eerie feeling in this place. This is a place of fear, of lawlessness, violence and death.
This is not the place Janet Napolitano will go on Tuesday, with her entourage and her cameras, and her attempt to convince Arizona that she has done something significant to enhance border security.