Residents worry about troops on border
EL PASO, Texas (AP) – Some sheriffs, residents and immigrant advocates along the nation’s southern edge raised doubts Monday about President Bush’s plan to send up to 6,000 National Guardsmen to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants across the Mexican border.
While some welcomed the idea, others expressed concern that the troops – especially those returning from tours in Iraq – might shoot first and investigate later, despite assurances from the White House that deployed troops at the border likely would serve only a support role.
Those people worried about a repeat of the 1997 fatal shooting of an 18-year-old goatherder by Marines on a drug-control mission in rural west Texas.
“I think because there are a lot of undocumented people here already, it’s going to get out of hand,” said Becky Montelongo, who manages a thrift shop in El Paso.
Overworked local sheriffs said that if the federal government really wants to help, it could send money for more deputies, equipment and training.
“It’s like sticking their finger in the dike and stopping the flow and not worrying about the high water already on this side of the dike,” said Sheriff Lupe Trevino of Hidalgo County, Texas. “We need to stop them at the border, but we also need to deal with those who are already in the country – inside my country – that are creating havoc.”
Sheriff Rick Flores of Webb County, which includes Laredo and receives the spillover of violence from drug-wracked Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, said the president’s plan will not stop illegal immigration.
“I guess he wants his ratings to come up by sending troops to the border, but that’s not the panacea,” said Flores, a Democrat. “All we’ve been asking for is to give us the resources that we need. We were expecting a dollar and now we’re probably going to get a nickel.”
El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego, another Democrat, said after Bush’s 17-minute speech that he felt slighted by the federal government.
“I am deeply distressed that we were once again ignored and not consulted,” he said.
Montelongo, 53, said if troops were sent to the border, she hopes Washington at least brings overseas troops – like her son, serving with the Army in Iraq – home to do the job.
Carolyn Parker, 78, a longtime El Paso resident, said her concern is the money and manpower pledged to the border security effort.
“That was just a bunch of platitudes,” Parker said after Bush’s speech. “All of these plans are just plans without funding.”
In Los Angeles, some members of the We Are America coalition – labor, community and religious groups that helped organize the recent pro-immigration marches – shook their heads as they watched the speech.
“We will now be two friendly countries with a militarized border in between. Please tell me why you have to have soldiers to meet people who are coming over to get a job. They are not a danger,” said Louis Velasquez, a representative of the Los Angeles Roman Catholic archdiocese.
“Are they going to have machine guns, tanks and grenades? I mean, how is this going to work?” added Javier Gonzalez, political director of a local union that represents janitors.
On the Mexican side of the border, Jorge Gutierrez said it will take a lot more than U.S. troops to keep him and other immigrants out. “No guard, no wall will keep us from crossing,” he said.
Jesus Rodriguez, 49, agreed. He was looking for ways to cross one of Juarez’s international bridges. “For Mexicans, there are no obstacles,” he said.
In 1997, Marines on an anti-drug mission saw Esequiel Hernandez apparently wandering with a .22-caliber rifle. Hernandez was shot to death as he was herding goats across the rugged desert. Family members said he carried the rifle to shoot at snakes and coyotes. A Marine was investigated but never charged.
James Johnson, whose family has ranched and farmed more than 100,000 acres along the border near Columbus, N.M., for nearly a century, said he does not fear a repeat of the Hernandez incident: “After that happened, everybody learned a lot of lessons.”
Johnson and rancher Mike Vickers, who has organized Minutemen volunteers to watch the border, said the news of Guardsmen was long overdue.
“I think we should have done it 15 years ago,” Vickers said. “Every day the numbers are greater and the damage is worse and the crime is escalating.” He added: “Over 50 percent of the time our local sheriff’s hung up handling illegal alien crimes – trying to break into someone’s homes, speeding through town, all kinds of different scenarios.”
Al Garza, national executive director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in Huachuca City, Ariz., estimated that the plan would work only if Bush deployed two soldiers per mile and posted them there around the clock, meaning 30,000 to 40,000 troops. Anything short of that, he said, would be pointless.
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