This week, Weekend Reader brings you an excerpt from And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing The Dark Side Of The American Border by journalist and Crooks and Liars blogger David Neiwert. And Hell Followed With Her details the inherent extremist right-wing racism and xenophobia toward immigrants. Neiwert describes the reality he encountered and the first-hand account of individuals and families surrounding the Arizona-Mexico border.
You can purchase the book here.
Arivaca is only twelve miles from the Mexican border, and the Altar Valley in which it sits, nestled in between Baboquivari Peak and the Cerro Colorado Mountains, has been a natural corridor for immigrants, both human and animal, traveling between what is now the United States and Mexico for centuries.
This means that, for the past twenty years, it has become increasingly used as a corridor for immigrants crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico. Often traveling at night, they use natural trails through the mountainous and generally treacherous terrain, which is laced with a variety of hostilities: thorny ocotillos and acacia, capable of ripping the flesh off your body, and the usual varieties of spiny cactuses, including a brushy species of cholla whose spines seem to actually jump off the plants and into your skin. Then there are the banditos and human traffickers who are known to waylay border crossers, and most of all the Border Patrol, with their electronic sensors and helicopters and tracking dogs and horse trackers.
In more recent years, Arivaca has attracted a new kind of hostility: border-watch vigilantes, people calling themselves Minutemen, angry American citizens who see the immigrants as invading enemies and whose activities are intended to send a message to the federal government demanding “border security.” Most of the Minutemen are simply angry and bellicose, and they want something done about illegal immigration, so they organize, participate, and, most of all, ceaselessly promote themselves in watches along various stretches of the border, intending to catch stray border crossers.
Most of them know their efforts are just a finger in the dike, but they see their watches above all as a way to make a statement, to send a message to bureaucrats in Washington that they want action. Some, however, take the watches even more seriously. They see vigilante action as part of a real solution. And some of these talk cryptically about “taking it to the next level.”
For people who have lived in Arivaca a long time, this kind of talk seems alien. Border crossers have been part of their lives for years. The situation had become more tense in the past ten years or so, when the feds shut down former key entry points in well-known border towns like Nogales, which had offered reasonably easy passage without having to resort to crossing in unguarded rural areas; after the shutdown, those rural areas became the primary route for immigrant workers. As the crow flies, Nogales and the Altar Valley in which Arivaca sits are only a few miles distant, but in between them is a maze of “sky islands”—ranges of high mountains like the Cerro Colorado and the Mustang and Tumacácori Mountains. These obstacles have forced immigrants attempting the border crossing to traverse the desert wastes in between, all of which funnel the trekkers into the Altar Valley.
Nowadays, though, people in Arivaca say that wandering border crossers were a much more common sight a decade ago. In the past couple of years, as the Border Patrol has intensified its presence in response to the debate over illegal immigration, much of that traffic has gone away. There are probably three times as many Patrol officers in the valley now, and you cannot drive the twenty-three miles from Amado into Arivaca without encountering at least a dozen of the agency’s vehicles, which not only prowl the highway but sit in pullouts and keep watch for border crossers.
It doesn’t mean the border crossers have gone away; rather, they have simply become more surreptitious. Often they do their trekking at night. And it means they do a lot of their travel in dry washes—the streambeds that weave throughout the Altar Valley, providing a pathway for the waters that occasionally flood across the valley when it gets its seasonal downpours. On the drive out to Arivaca, the highway is dotted with signs warning when you’re about to cross one of these washes, accompanied by a dip in the roadway: “Do Not Drive When Flooded.”
A dry wash runs directly behind the Flores-Gonzalez family home, cutting a diagonal slash across its acreage. Indeed, the Border Patrol had paid a couple of late-night visits to the Flores-Gonzalez home in the past as agents pursued suspected border crossers up their wash, but the visits had entailed polite visits by agents seeking permission to access the dry streambed behind their house.