Rodolfo F. Acuña, “It’s Only the Third World,” 2000 Rough Draft
No mater what kind of spin the media wants to put on it, what armed vigilante ranchers are doing to Mexican migrant workers in southern Arizona is morally wrong. The US Border Patrol, which sworn to serve and protect human life, is also wrong in abetting the ranchers’ terrorist acts.
What we are witnessing is the result of one hundred and fifty years of tensions. Just in the past month vigilante ranchers shot Miguel Palafox, a young Mexican worker. Palafox literally crawled back to Mexico for medical treatment, accusing Arizona cowboys on horseback of shooting him. As in the past, the Border Patrol and US officials deny this claim, instead blaming Mexican bandits.
The traffic of undocumented Mexicans and others increased through southern Arizona in the 1980s and 1990s. Because Border Patrol sweeps in El Paso and San Diego have been more successful in rounding up undocumented workers, many are forced to brave the hazardous desert of southern Arizona. A minority of ranchers, wanna be Texas Rangers, have taken the law into their own hands and hunted down Mexicans. They have allegedly sent out a flyer, calling for other racist nativist to joining them in the hunt.
The media, which is supposed to check these excesses, has remained relatively silent. When Professor Guadalupe Castillo of Pima College asked a New York reporter, why the national media was so silent, he responded, “The border is a Third World country, and people just don’t give a damn.” The situation on the border is much like that in the movie “Chinatown.” No one cares what happens in Chinatown, just like few care what happens to African Americans and Latinos in the barrios and ghettoes of this country.
Violence is not new to southern Arizona. It dates to when the United States took southern Arizona from Mexico at gun point in 1853. Violence was pervasive throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. There was not much of an outcry when in 1917, mine owners deported 1200 strikers from Bisbee alone. Most of the deportees were Mexicans.
The Border Patrol, founded in 1924, was supposed to prevent the entry of unauthorized persons and materials into U.S. territory. The Cold War changed this role. The Eisenhower administration turned to military solutions as a way to control the influx of "dangerous" and subversive peoples. His Attorney General Herbert Brownell trumpeted that America's frontier with Mexico was out of control with dangerous people overrunning us. Retired Gen. Joseph Swing, Eisenhower's former classmate at West Point, headed Operation Wetback. Swing reorganized the command structure, got new equipment, and fitted them out in smart, forest-green uniforms.
The late 1960s saw the nation turn to a law-and-order rhetoric. The drug war was added as a reason for keeping dangerous people out of the country. Millions of dollars were committed from Washington to modernize, professionalize, and militarize local law enforcement over the next decade. In this war, the INS manufactured statistics. It invented euphemisms like “illegal” that really meant criminals, “aliens” that really meant creatures from outer space.
In this context, Patrick Hanigan, his brother, Thomas, and their father, George, in August of 1976 captured Manuel Garcia Loya, Eleazar Ruelas Zavala, and Bernabe Herrera Mata, who crossed their ranch, fronting the Mexican border west of Douglas, Ariz. They tortured them, using hot pokers, cigarettes, knives and fired a shotgun filled with bird shot at them. The ordeal lasted several hours before sent them naked and bleeding back across the border.
An all white jury acquitted Patrick and Thomas Hanigan in 1977 of fourteen counts of assault, kidnapping, and other felonies. Their father died before the trial. A public outcry led by Chicano organizations forced the Carter administration in 1981 to try the Hanigans. A federal jury found Patrick guilty. Thomas, because of his young age was acquitted. At least fifteen killings and more than 150 incidents of alleged brutality occurred against Mexicans in Arizona alone during the 70s. Border Patrol agents had shot and wounded three undocumented aliens during the eighteen months before 1977.
In 1981 another all-white jury in Arizona state court found a former rancher, W.M. Burris Jr., 28, guilty of unlawfully imprisoning and of aggravated assault of a Mexican farm worker. Burris suspecting his employee around of stealing, chained him around the neck. It did not find him guilty of the more serious charge of unlawful imprisonment and kidnaping. Burris used a deadly weapon, and he should have carried a mandatory five-year prison sentence.
Also, in the early 80s, local authorities attacked the all-black, 300-member Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church in Miracle Valley located in Cochise County. After members resisted this attack, Cochise County authorities charged them with assault and other felonies. Two members of the congregation were shot and killed during the confrontation. The Pima County courts released most of the defendants because Cochise County refused to pay for legal cost for the indigent defendants. They returned to Chicago, their original home.
The Reagan years saw the creation of the Border Patrol Tactical Teams (BORTACS), a special paramilitary. By 1989 Congress had authorized 5,000 federal troops for border duty. They built fences and walls and Border Patrol budget zoomed. Combat-ready troops were committed, but removed after public outrage over the shooting of an unarmed Mexican national. The military, however, continued to provide aid to immigration authorities. Some 600 U.S. Marines and army troops, built and upgraded helicopter pads and roads. They deployed strategies of counterinsurgency used by the U.S. military in Southeast Asia in the 1960s. Their objective was to establish and maintain social control over targeted civilian groups. Significantly, corruption and Border Patrol abuses zoomed out of control during these years.
During the 1980s, Border Patrol agents shot dozens of people, killing eleven and permanently disabling ten. To take the focus away from state violence, and to break the growing opposition to the militarization of the border, the Reagan Justice Department in the mid-1980s, prosecuted the religious sanctuary movement. They suggested Tucson as a center for the movement. The courts acquitted the defendants, portrayed so-called “dangerous people.”
Instead of reversing this legacy of violence, the Clinton Administration has pandered to the BP and the racist nativist. Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner has encouraged the ranchers’ outlaw behavior by saying they "have legitimate concerns about the trespassers on their property." While she condemned what she called "vigilantes," Meissner said there was no evidence to support reports by Mexican media that ranchers had shot at migrants in recent weeks. Secretary Madeleine Albright chimed in that the ranchers had the right to evict trespassers from their land. Both shifted the focus to the “dangerous people”--the drug traffickers and the coyotes, after all they were “illegal aliens.”
As for the media, it has made a hero of Roger Barnett, a rancher, who boasts of having made thousands of arrests of Mexican migrants. Through his words and deeds he has invited white supremacist groups to come to their ranches to help them "hunt" Mexican “aliens.” I went to the border in the first days of June. After interviewing the head of the Border Patrol, a Tejano, and the U.S. Attorney, a Chicano, I realized that not much change had taken place. That police authorities everywhere whether in brown or white masks had similar pretexts. Like with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Ramparts scandal--the answer is that sure there are instances of malfeasance, but it was confined to just a couple of rogue cops--a couple of bad apples--the system works. Yeah!
Just in the first days of June Yolanda Gonzalez, 19, after walking three days in the searing desert with her 18-month-old daughter on her hip, from Oaxaca gave the last of her water to her baby and died. Four Mexicans perished that week. But, who cares, it’s only Chinatown.