Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tense At The Arizona Border In Nogales

My wife left a message on my cell phone that the US Border Patrol called our house in Lovell, Maine three times. “I picked up the third time,” she said. “They asked what your date of birth was and I told them. Hope that was all right.” It had been an interesting day on the border at Nogales, Arizona - Nogales, Sonora on the Mexican side.

I had called her earlier to report that I survived my foray into Mexico and was on the highway driving back to Tucson. I told her that I’d been escorted off the US Border Patrol facility in Nogales, AZ and I’d explain later why, but that I was fine and not to worry.

I’d driven down to Nogales from Tucson where I’d been staying because I’d been hearing so much about goings-on there. Arizona and other border states are overrun with illegal aliens from Mexico and I wanted to see for myself. I discovered that the reports are quite true, and, if anything, they’re played down. “This is the busiest border station in the country,” one agent told me. I'd listened to US Senator Jon Kyl interviewed on an AM Talk station as I drove south on Route 19. He'd told constituents in Phoenix the other day about a private meeting with President Obama during which Obama told him: "The problem is, . . . if we secure the border, then you all won’t have any reason to support ‘comprehensive immigration reform.’” [Audible gasps were heard throughout the audience.] Sen. Kyl continued, “In other words, they’re holding it hostage. They don’t want to secure the border unless and until it is combined with 'comprehensive immigration reform.'" That, of course, is a euphemism for amnesty.

After walking over to the Mexican side for a few hours (seeing Obama's and Napolitano's pictures prominently displayed behind US border officials), I walked back and drove along “International Street” on the American side. The road parallels the border fence, and BP vehicles move constantly chasing illegals sneaking in. One BP agent was sitting in his modified Dodge pickup - modifed by wire mesh installed over the vehicle’s windows the way some Range Rovers have screens over their headlights. “You can’t go past here,” he said as I pulled up alongside and lowered my window.

“Why not?” I asked.

He abruptly put up his hand to an earpiece and said, “Gotta go.” He gunned it in reverse to get around me then shot up a steep hill in a cloud of dust.We were within the Nogales city limits, no more than 300 yards west of the border crossover point into Mexico I’d walked back and forth over that morning. I watched as he and two other BP agents scrambled around and talked into their head-mounted communication devices. I locked my rented SUV, strolled around and took pictures, very glad I’d invested in a 18-270 mm lens last year. When two BP vehicles parked next to each other up a steep gravel road, I got into my SUV and drove on up the steep rise where they were talking. I expected them to be angry and to order me away, but instead one uniformed agent, the one who had to scramble away so quickly, told me it was dangerous for me to be up there. “If you get hit in the head with a rock, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Is that why you have that wire mesh over your windshield?” I asked.“Exactly,” he said.

“Do you guys need help keeping a lid on things here?” I asked.

“This is the busiest section of border in the country,” he said. “We arrested 57,000 illegals last year and that was down from 100,000 in 2007.”

“Right here in Nogales?”

“Yup. Right here in Nogales.”

“Probably have no idea how many got by you, right?”

He shrugged. "Somebody can cut a hole in that fence in about forty seconds."

"I saw where somebody had cut a doorway in it right over there," I said, pointing, "and somebody else welded it back up."


“It looks like the federal government wants to seem like it’s controlling the border without really controlling it,” I said. “Would you agree with that?”

He hesitated. My sense was that he did agree, but didn’t want to say. I’d revealed that I was a columnist from Maine and he was from Maine as well. “I suggest you talk to the Public Information Office about that. I don’t want to comment.” He referred me to Jorge Uques and wrote down his phone number. “We’re so busy here in Nogales, we’ve got our own Public Information Officer.”

“Where is he at?”

“1500 West La Quinta in Nogales. About three miles from here.”

I thanked him, plugged that into my GPS, and drove off.Looking through border fence from Nogales, AZ yesterday

1500 La Quinta looked like a military base. There must have been hundreds of green-and-white Border Patrol vehicles as well as horses and ATVs. I waited at the guard shack by the entrance but nobody came out, so I drove on in, parked in the designated visitors’ parking lot and walked inside. I stated my business to a receptionist who called Mr. Ugues on the phone.

“He’s not in. His grandmother died and he’s away. Someone else will come down.”

Agent Richard Funke, pronounced “funky,” came down the stairs and we shook hands. We exchanged business cards and I asked if he minded me recording our conversation. Wrong move. “Actually, you’ll have to talk to our Public Affairs Officer in Tucson,” he said. “He handles media relations.” We shook hands again and I walked out. I saw agents training with what looked like blue M-16s on a hillside and took pictures.Prominently posted in Nogales, AZ Historical Society building

Then a vehicle drove up and another agent told me “This is a federal facility and you shouldn’t be walking around without an escort. How did you get in here?” I explained, but that didn’t satisfy him. “What did you take pictures of?” He took my camera and erased the ones I took at 1500 West La Quinta, and gave it back. Then he called two other agents to escort me off the property.

Don’t know why they wanted my date of birth. Must be investigating me. I’ll be talking to the Public Information Officer in Tucson today.

More later.


Anonymous said...

I did something like that once (walk around a base hanger) and got the same treatment - basically 'you should know better than to do that'.


Judging from your online 'list of who's visiting' I see Tuscon Arizona listed, they are still checking.

I'm not an alien, I'm a Canadian. Do you see antenna or green skin?


Anonymous said...

Tom, the first picture, with the fence in the lower left - does it continue along the top, or is that some 'rich' person's house in Mexico with their own fence?


Tom McLaughlin said...

That would be me.

I'm sitting in my Tucson motel room waiting for a phone call from BP headquarters here in the city. They're in a staff meeting. I just called and spoke to someone named Mario Escalante who promised to call me back in forty minutes.

Anonymous said...

Great article! -Monroe

Anonymous said...

Pictures of Tucson! Pictures of Tucson!

You take great photo's Tom and I want to know what all the snowbirds from Canada head down to.

I have this image of desert and cactus trees broken up by acres of white camping trailers and green 18 hole courses.


Anonymous said...

Great story but the part about the hole cut in the fence makes me wonder why that looks like a door that was put in the fence not just a piece cut away by someone trying to get through it. Why would there be that bar across it with what appears to be padlocks on each end if someone 'welded' it back on. Is that some kind of handle in that rusted spot near the bottom. And why is that number so neatly painted on it. And from the looks of it you could probably dig a hole under that spot in the time it would take to cut a hole in the fence. Seems to me that this picture speaks 1000 words or more and none agree with the story.

mainemom said...

Look forward to hearing more Tom! Anyone who does not believe Tom about the "fence," should do some traveling and actually see the border! My grandparents live near the CA state border and there are literally road signs showing a mother and children running as a caution to cars there are so many illegals. If you have lived in a border state you know what I am talking about. If you have not seen anything other then New England you can believe Tom and the pictures OR actually do some traveling and learn a thing or two about other places in our great country.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Tucson itself doesn't inpire me to take pictures. It's wide and sprawling - lots of fast food restaurants, strip malls, motels, etc. Not what I want to pull over and shoot.

If you want desert and mountains and Mexico, I'll send you some shots.

Borderfence said...

Hi Tom: As a 24 year resident of Nogales, Arizona, I encourage you to talk to some of the 25,000 people that live here, work every day and enjoy this as one of the safest communities in the country before you pile on with the rest of the sensationalists and trash my home town. If you're going to be another tool for the Border Patrol press machine, it's your choice but at least look around you and see the billions in legitimate commerce going on. Oh, and it's Nogales, "Sonora" and International "Street". Sonoma is a county in northern California.
BTW, one of my best friends was born near Bath, Maine, is in the Border Patrol stationed in Nogales and at least informs his friends back home about the whole picture here. His Mom was just here on vacation and loved it.

Anonymous said...

You should also check out some of the main paths that they choose to follow deeper into Arizona, similar to the one where the Arizona farmer was recently shot and killed. There are trails lined with garbage because so many illegals have been there before.

Good luck, Joel Johnson

Tom McLaughlin said...

Thanks for the tip Joel.

If it's so safe there in Nogales, AZ, why did the BP agent from Maine I talked to tell me it isn't safe for me to even be on International Street because I might get hit in the head by a rock? And how come 57,000 illegals were arrested in your city last year? And why have tourists been advised that it's too dangerous to go to parks in your area?

And why did I see BP Agents training with assault rifles at their headquarters as if they were in ground combat? I could show you the pictures, but that BP captain erased them from my camera.

As for being "another tool for the Border Patrol press team," why did they give me the runaround and then kick me out?

They wouldn't even tell me how many agents they had in Nogales because they didn't want the "bad guys" to know their strength.

Anonymous said...

If you've got time in Tucson, check out Sabino Canyon up in the Santa Catalinas. I have a friend who lives over there and it's beautiful. Saguaro National Park is worth a trip, too. Might be a nice for a break between getting escorted off government facilities! Good luck on the trip.


Anonymous said...

CNN has an article on this very thing Tom:


Nogales, Arizona (CNN) -- Mario Morales keeps his Commando assault rifle propped up on the seat of his patrol vehicle. The car snakes along a dirt road about a half-mile from the Mexican border.


Unknown said...

Tom, what is the
white building that looks almost like a church with a domed part in the Nogales blog?

Tom McLaughlin said...

It's a mission of some kind, or was, as I remember. Not sure about its current status.

Somebody else asked about it and I looked it up two years ago, but I forget now what it's called.

I saw it off in the distance on my right as I was driving south on a main highway from Tucson to Nogales that day. I zoomed in with my telephoto lens for the shot.

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