“If they only wanted to rob agent Rosas, they didn’t need to shoot him once in the neck and three times in the back of the head. It was an execution. The whole thing looked like a setup in order to kill somebody. The fact that five people came across about ten days ago, went directly to the monument, and got chased off tells me something more is going on. It’s provocation. It’s been going on in one way or another ever since I got out here.” This type of activity accounts for about half of the movement Craig observes on the border.
Craig bears no ill will toward the men and women who enter the country illegally. He acknowledges that he would do the same were he in their situation.
“Anybody is going to try to better themselves. Anybody is going to try to feed their family. But that doesn’t make it right.”
Because illegal immigrants are often willing to work for a fraction of what U.S. citizens will work for, Craig contends, entire industries are hurt, putting Americans out of work. Furthermore, illegal immigrants are subject to mistreatment ranging from being overworked and underpaid to not being paid at all.
“What’s he going to do?” asks Craig. “Call the cops? Just as bad as you want to be is how you can treat him. And that has screwed up the deal for everybody in the country.”
With a furrowed brow, he takes a long look at the expanse of land south of the fence. To the untrained eye, both sides appear identical — sparsely populated, serene, picturesque. But Craig’s singular vision perceives that subtle branding that separates north from south. Craig’s American dream ends at that wall. It butts up against it and goes no further. The dream that some semblance of decency and goodwill should circulate among the common psyche, the dream that young men and women should be allowed to grow up in a safe society ruled by temperance and reason, the dream that hard work is rewarded with fair pay and everyone who exerts an effort gets what he needs to pursue his happiness — this dream belongs to us, Craig knows, provided we are willing to claim it as our own.
“I don’t wish recession upon the American economy,” he says finally, “but I’ve had a wonderful time all my life, and I’ve seen a lot of drunks. Throwing them in some cold water is good for them. This may be the sobering moment America needs to come to its senses.”
With the recession, Craig has observed a marked difference in the demographics of illegal border crossers. As recently as a year ago, it was common to see large groups being led by coyotes, professional guides. Illegal immigrants pay as much as $4000 each for a coyote’s services. Most crossers seek employment in the United States because they don’t have much money in the first place. In fact, an April 2006 report from the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan research group, found that minimum wages in the United States are about ten times higher than in Mexico. Families in Mexico are often held as collateral until the coyote’s fee is paid. As a result, illegal immigrants effectively become indentured servants to their guides.
“Every once in a while,” Craig relates, “you’ll hear stories about families getting snuffed because of that.”
Now, as work becomes difficult to find and maintain even for native-born American citizens, the risk of crossing is too high. Craig sees few groups of potential workers crossing these days. Instead, he sees an increased number of mules, single crossers carrying large packs stuffed with drugs.
Craig relates an incident involving two Mexican men who wandered into the Minutemen camp one evening. They looked anxious but not afraid. They were given chairs, coats, and cans of soda as they waited for the Border Patrol to arrive. Eventually, they were taken away, and the Minutemen considered it a job well done. Later, the Border Patrol told the Minutemen that the men’s shoulders had blistered red spots where their heavy packs had been.
“They were tired, and they didn’t want to walk back to where they came from,” says Craig, “so they turned themselves in to get a meal and a shower, see if there were any girls in the holding pens, and get a free bus ride back into Mexico.”
In fact, the border fence was never intended to keep out foot traffic. Put up in the early ’90s, the fence was meant to act as a vehicle barrier. But that didn’t deter the men whom Craig once watched remove a section with an oxyacetylene torch and drive their pickup across the border with 900 pounds of marijuana.
“Drugs are still selling pretty well, apparently,” Craig says.
The sentiment is echoed by Mike Streenan, owner of the Potrero General Store, located ten miles west of Campo. “I haven’t seen an illegal in probably three months,” he says. “All you have anymore is the cartels moving the drugs.”
Streenan moved to Potrero six years ago. In search of a simpler life, he found the actualization of his dream in what he calls “the greatest place on earth.” Potrero circa 2004 was a haven of sorts, set apart from the bustle of the city, a place where nobody worried about things like crime, seat belts, or expired vehicle registrations. The town of roughly 900 inhabitants was quiet and self-contained. Everyone minded his own business.
Then in the fall of 2008, the Department of Homeland Security granted the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department $5.5 million for the purposes of “reducing border-related crimes and helping secure our borders by a strong, visible, proactive presence in local communities impacted by the border.” The result was that five new sheriffs began patrolling Potrero and, Streenan says, doing little more than harassing locals for petty violations.
“They have to get money because this state is broke,” he says. “The one cop we used to have didn’t really write tickets because he dealt more with domestic disputes. Now the cops are constantly on the road pulling cars over all over the place.”