Crossing the Border from Mexico to the U.S., Part 2 Scott Carrier
Immigrants brave a dangerous stretch of desert.
Profile: Problems of guarding the US-Mexican border
August 26, 2004 from Day to Day
ALEX CHADWICK, host: This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.
The US Border Patrol now employs 11,000 agents along the 2,000-mile border that separates this country from Mexico. But even that is not enough to stop hundreds of thousands of immigrants trying to cross that border illegally each year into places like Sasabe, Arizona. It's on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. We heard about it yesterday in a piece from producer Scott Carrier, who was with some Mexicans waiting to try to cross. He's back now with a second report, and this time it's from the perspective of the US security agent waiting on the other side.
SCOTT CARRIER reporting:
The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is a big chunk of land, 118,000 acres. It used to be a cattle ranch, but is now managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as a home to 325 species of birds, 53 reptiles and amphibians, 58 mammals and the endangered Pima pineapple cactus.
At the visitor's center, I pick up a tip sheet called Safety Precautions. It says, `What makes the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge so attractive are the grasslands, open spaces, wildlife and water. These same attributes make the refuge an ideal point for illegal entry into the United states. You should avoid contact with these groups or individuals. If you're approached for food or water, you should leave the area and contact refuge personnel or Border Patrol who will assist them. Do not put yourself at risk by giving aid.' In Yellowstone, it's dangerous to feed the bears; here, it's dangerous to feed the illegal aliens.
Mr. SYLVESTER MARTINSIC (Security Officer, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge): Hi. This is Fish & Wildlife 42.
CARRIER: Sylvester Martinsic(ph) is a security officer for the refuge.
Mr. MARTINSIC: Ten-10, Code 103.
CARRIER: He's a young man, 6'4", and has big hands that are shaking due to the fact he's been working most of the past 48 hours.
Mr. MARTINSIC: Excellent. And I'll 10-1 on the radio right now.
CARRIER: He lives on the refuge, says there are aliens going by his house day and night. I ask him to tell me about it, and he starts reading from his log two days before.
Mr. MARTINSIC: Well, I started out my day with exercise, and then I apprehended two groups of aliens at my house. And then one of the groups, the second group--I always ask them if there's more people in the group, know what their condition is, etc. And they told me that there were several more. Actually, they crossed the border with 27, I think, or 28 people, 28 people. And then they'd already left seven behind and they'd already been walking about four days. And they claim to have been out of food and water for three days. And they left a woman and kids behind--they didn't know where they left them; they just leaved them. Often, what they do is they'll all go take a nap and then they'll wake up the ones that are strong and they'll just leave the other ones that are just weak.
CARRIER: There's no way to be sure, but the group he's describing sounds like the group Julian and I saw leaving Sasabe. The timing is right, the number of people is right and there were two babies.
Mr. MARTINSIC: We went out and looked for them. And these people--they are completely nude in the dirt, covered with dirt, rolling around, dirt in their mouth. They look like Aborigines. I mean, they looked sad. They were sitting there grovelling in the dirt like my dog would when he can't find shade, you know. And that's what they're doing, you know. And it was a really sad sight to see. There wasn't one spot--you know, in their eyelids they had dirt. They opened their mouth, they had dirt in their mouth. And that's normally what they do, you know, right before they die. So they're pretty bad off. And the one guy was dry-heaving over there. They told me that they couldn't walk any more. They couldn't walk back to my house from where they had seen my house and it was a couple miles, and so...
CARRIER: At a certain point in the conversation, Sylvester starts feeling uncomfortable and asked me to turn off the tape recorder. He says he hasn't had enough sleep and he's worried he's not making any sense and may say something he shouldn't. For his job, for reasons he's not even sure about, he just doesn't want to talk anymore. I say, `OK, fine.' But what happened to the people, the people he found in the desert? And he says he called the Border Patrol and they came and got them. Then he says maybe I should talk to his wife, Lisa(ph). She's at home making dinner. Maybe I should come to dinner.
(Soundbite of door opening and closing)
CARRIER: The Martinsics--Sylvester, Lisa, their five kids and two dogs--live in a ranch house 20 miles from the nearest neighbor, 25 miles north of the border. They're devout Christians, the bookshelves full of religious books. They're home-schooling their kids. The oldest is eight; the youngest is almost one. Sly is away a lot, working both day and night, so Lisa's there alone with the kids. And the ranch house, to someone who's walked 25 miles from the border, is a place with water and food and a phone. When they come to the house, it's because they can't go any farther. They come to give up.
So you have migrant and illegal aliens coming through here a lot?
Mrs. LISA MARTINSIC: Oh, yeah. We have a lot. Just the other day, we had three of them on Sunday morning stop by. And then the other night, we had 35 or 40 come in front of our house. So there's quite a bit.
CARRIER: What time did they come in?
Mrs. MARTINSIC: That was 11:00, but sometimes you'll hear--we'll have our windows open. We can hear cars driving by. We hear--all hours of the night. So when our dogs start barking in a certain way, we can tell and we look out the windows and usually there's aliens. And the kids have to--I try to have them not show themselves, not make any noise.
CARRIER: Do they come right up to your house?
Mrs. MARTINSIC: Shortly after we moved here, there was an older man who hopped the fence and came up to--I think they came up the back, and then he came around and came through--there's a door over there--and he sat on our porch. And then he kept using his walking stick to pound on our door. And that was really unnerving. And for one thing, many of them are criminals and they have records. So that's a bad thing in and of itself. So if we've got terrorists coming across--there's no way to stop them, really. If they want to be across, they can come across. It's not a problem. And I don't know how far all that extends, but--Paul, please stop. OK?
CARRIER: Are you worried about your kids being out here?
Mrs. MARTINSIC: At times, I am. I believe in God. I believe he's there with me. And whatever he will allow to happen to me is in his design and in his plan. And I can rest in that; I can sleep at night. You know, I'm not really brave in and of myself, but I can be confident in him. So that's how I feel.
(Soundbite of music)
CARRIER: I leave Sly and Lisa's house at sunset, drive along a dirt road back to the highway that goes north to Tucson. The desert at this hour does not look or feel hostile. The sun is safely beyond the horizon, and the grass and trees seem to be glowing from exuberance at having made it through another day.
In the hour or so before dark, this is not a place where women and kids are wandering lost, not a place where naked men swim through the dirt. This is where man and boys from Oaxaca and Veracruz sit in the grass and eat lemons and garlic, when babies stop crying and fall asleep in their mother's arms. For an hour or so, Sly and Lisa can relax, put their own kids to bed and watch the sky change from orange to red to blue to black.
CHADWICK: That story from writer and producer Scott Carrier, with the support of the independent radio group Hearing Voices.
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CHADWICK: This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News.