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.
That may have been why one of the first law enforcement agents to arrive at the home in the early morning hours of May 30, and the first to administer help to Gina Gonzalez, was a Border Patrol officer named Don Williams. Sheriff’s deputies had been called out first, but they were much farther from Arivaca—and perhaps just as importantly, they did not understand exactly where they were going. The Flores-Gonzalez home was located in a small rural neighborhood consisting of some forty houses on five- to ten-acre lots, spread out on a long rectangular grid about a mile northeast of the town proper. Confusion about how to get there, for those unfamiliar with the area, was common.
Williams is normally employed by the Border Patrol as a horse tracker, but he had the midnight shift that night, which meant staying off his mount and sitting inside a pickup along the roadside, keeping an eye out for border crossers wandering up the washes. The spot where he was stationed that night—at the milepost marking seven miles’ distance from Arivaca—was right next to such a wash, so it was a good place to mount a watch.
Then, at about one a.m., came the alarm from the Pima County Sheriff’s dispatcher: a double homicide on Mesquite Road. Williams promptly fired up the pickup and sped as fast he could down the winding country road toward Arivaca. As he approached the end of Mesquite Road, he could see a sheriff’s deputy pull up from the other direction and park in front of the Flores-Gonzalez home with flashing lights blazing.
Gina Gonzalez’s seemingly interminable wait for help was over.
When Williams and the deputy entered the home together, the first thing they saw was Junior Flores on the living room couch. He at first looked as if he were dozing—he was sitting back on the couch, and his right arm was slightly raised, as though he had fallen asleep with a beer in his hand—but the blood streaming from his chest and head from obvious gunshot wounds quickly erased that illusion. He was not breathing.
The next thing they saw was Brisenia, lying on the love seat a few feet away, and there were no illusions about her condition: Her limbs were oddly akimbo, and whoever shot her had made a bloody mess of her little face.
In the kitchen, just out of view, Gina was talking to them, telling them she was there. Williams went in to help her, cautiously at first, while the sheriff’s deputy worked his way down the hallway to the bedrooms to see whether anyone else was still in the house. Gina had kicked her husband’s .40-caliber handgun away from her body, and Williams pushed it further away, into the entrance to the dining area, and then knelt down to see what he could do.
Gina was bleeding profusely from the wound in her leg, and part of her femur was protruding from the wound. She had another wound in her chest, but it was not draining out as badly. Williams was not trained in emergency first aid, however, and knew he might harm the woman if he tried to do too much, so he gave her a towel, attempted to help her slow the bleeding, and talked to her to try to comfort her. She tried telling him what had happened, but none of it made a lot of sense.
In a little while—Williams said it seemed as if it “was not too long,” though time, or at least the memory of it, is always distorted in events like this—emergency medical technicians from Green Valley arrived on the scene and began giving Gina proper care. Williams backed out of the room and began doing what he could to help the deputies with securing the crime scene. Someone said that there was supposed to be another daughter in the house, so he and another deputy went out the back door to see if they could find her. They didn’t, of course—but they did find a set of fresh footprints from an adult, and so Williams did what he’s best at: tracking. He followed the prints down into the wash behind the house and then down the streambed until it intersected with the road a little further away. The prints disappeared where they intersected with a fresh set of tire tracks.
Excerpted with permission from And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border by David Neiwert. Available from Nation Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2013.