Across it flows the largest migration on earth. Nearly 15 percent of the Mexican workforce now resides in the United States. When the dust settles, this exodus will influence us more than the Iraq war. The war is who we are; the migrants are who we will be. For a century, the United States has tolerated and sponsored various nondemocratic rulers in Mexico. When Porfirio Díaz ruled as a dictator, we celebrated him. When the revolution came, we tried to corrupt and control various factions and repeatedly invaded. When a new dictatorship settled on Mexico disguised within single–party rule for 71 years, we celebrated it. When the students were butchered in Mexico City in 1968 on the eve of the Olympics, we focused on gold medals and ignored the murders. When Mexico became a narco state in the 1980s, we denied this fact. When NAFTA proved ruinous to most Mexicans, we denied this fact. And now as millions flee this charnel house, we pretend it is simply a mild structural readjustment of globalization, something that provides us cheap labor and grows that thing we call our economy.
For several decades now our economic theology has outsourced not only American jobs but also the reality that most people on this planet must endure. We buy clothes made by children and comment on the good price. Oceans have largely sheltered us from the consequences of our actions. But the Third World has finally said hello and this time not even a wall will keep it silent or at bay. What is happening on our southern border has penetrated our entire country and the border is simply a point where we watch the world race toward us at flood level. The issue is not securing a broken border any more than the real issue in New Orleans is building a better levee. Storms are rising, and the walls and levees are simply points where we taste their initial force as they move inland.
We have entered the future even as we pretend it is simply a version of our past.
Some of us protest this future. Kyle, 37, wears a camouflage hat and a green T–shirt. He's a man of some heft and does not smile easily. He's getting ready for a patrol at a ranch house about 40 miles north of Sásabe. It's early April, and the Minutemen are bivouacked just above the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. Last year, Kyle took part in the Minutemen's initial action, an event of media brilliance that recalled guerrilla theater masterpieces of the '60s. With only a few hundred people, mainly retirees, the Minutemen, outnumbered by print, radio, and television media, captured the imagination of many Americans, caused a national conversation about the perils of the border, and danced across television screens for weeks. Their leader, Chris Simcox, came off as a smooth–talking John Wayne defending a new Alamo. I liked them all and thought I had stumbled into a geriatric Woodstock. To avoid any unseemly incidents, Mexican soldiers had told the coyotes to take a holiday and so the entire month was tenting, talking, lawn chairs, and not much else.
This year is different. Like so many outsider movements, the Minutemen have had their thunder stolen by the mainstream pols. Their issues are now legitimate talk on the floors of Congress. But still Kyle's here to "protect the American Dream, live in a free country, own a home, and make a decent living without tyranny."
Kyle owns a kind of janitorial service in the Phoenix area, and in a few days that city will host a march by illegals protesting the bill in Congress that would make them felons, deny them a chance for citizenship, and possibly deport them. He says a bunch of his employees have told him they are going to skip work for the march.
He begs to differ. "You can't," he offers, "legitimize 15 to 30 million lawbreakers. There's some people here who plain shouldn't be here."
Just then, Chris Simcox ambles up. He's dressed in black and holds a hacksaw in one hand (he's been cutting PVC pipe) and a cigar stub in the other.
Simcox is a natural American genius at publicity. "We're going to grow," he explains, "until we equal the number of the Border Patrol if we have to. We have 7,000 members and next year we'll have 14,000 to 15,000. We have Americans here taking jobs that the government won't take. Try and remove us."
He speaks darkly of an incident like Tiananmen Square should the authorities try to remove Minutemen from their stations.
He loves the marches by illegals and their supporters. "It's already backfired," he says. "We couldn't ask for a better situation–hundreds of thousands showing no respect for this country. The silent majority is not out there yelling and screaming."
In a few days, Simcox will unleash his new idea: have the Minutemen build fences on private property along the line to demonstrate that the U.S. government could easily stop this brown invasion of America. First, there will be a 6–foot–deep trench backed by coils of concertina wire and then a 15–foot–tall steel mesh fence with the top angling toward Mexico. Behind this will be a dirt road and video cameras so that anyone on a home computer can watch for illegals. Across the road will be another 15–foot fence and more concertina wire. The group figures the whole deal will run only $125 to $150 a foot.
I stroll around the corner and see the tally board. One day the Minutemen's morning shift sighted 92 illegals and bagged 34. The midday shift saw 83 and caught 59. The night crew sighted 54 and nailed 23. These numbers stun me because they mean that, unlike last year, the coyotes have so many customers they cannot afford to avoid routes known to have Minutemen plopped in their path. Imagine rush hour and you see the reality. Of course, bagging the quarry means calling the Border Patrol to pick them up. The Minutemen are punctilious about the niceties of law, and what they are doing—armed patrols against lawbreakers—is legal.
They are the inevitable consequence of illegal immigration, part of a new page in American nativism. They are neither alarming, nor unfriendly, nor relevant.
Forty miles south of the Minuteman camp, I hit the drag road, a dirt track swept by the Border Patrol looking for the footprints of men, women, and children heading north. The ground is littered with cast–off water bottles, clothing, food cans, shoes, gloves, backpacks. The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, covering about 185 square miles, was created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1985, in part to save the masked bobwhite, a bird that was extinct in the United States and barely clinging to life in Mexico. What killed off the bird was settlement in both nations. Now it is being slowly stomped to death in its last refuge. Migrants have created 1,320 miles of trails and resurrected 200 miles of old roads, now littered with abandoned cars, some decorated with bullet holes.