HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Police Investigate Killings Of Illegal Immigrants In
Pubdate: Wed, 23 Oct 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Section: National
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Author: Nick Madigan


RED ROCK, Ariz. - The police are investigating whether armed vigilantes, 
self-appointed guardians of the border with Mexico, fatally shot at least 
two illegal immigrants in the desert last week.

A 32-year-old man who was part of a group of a dozen migrants waiting to be 
picked up by smugglers at a pond just west of here last Wednesday told 
investigators that he escaped through the brush after two men wearing 
camouflage fatigues descended on the group, firing an automatic rifle and a 

Police officers found two bodies riddled with bullets and no sign of the 
remaining nine migrants. It is not known whether they escaped or were 
loaded into vehicles and taken away, either dead or alive.

Mike Minter, a spokesman for the Pinal County Sheriff's Department, said 
detectives were looking into several possibilities, including a suggestion 
that the shootings were a result of a dispute between rival coyotes, as the 
smugglers who guide migrants across the border are called.

Mr. Minter said the nine missing people "may have been taken from one 
coyote group by another coyote group." Conversely, he said, the possibility 
that vigilantes were involved "hasn't been ruled out."

Migrants-rights advocates in Tucson, about 30 miles southeast of here, say 
the killings are part of a vigilante terror campaign intended to stop the 
flow of immigrants from Mexico.

The advocates discounted the notion that rival coyotes, who usually blend 
in with their charges so as to avoid detection, were responsible for the 

"Never have I seen a coyote or a smuggler wear camo or military dress," 
said John M. Fife, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson and a 
former member of the Sanctuary movement, which helped political refugees, 
primarily from Central America, gain asylum in the United States in the 1980's.

At a news conference on Monday, Isabel Garcia, 49, a public defender in 
Pima County and co-chairwoman of the Human Rights Coalition/Indigenous 
Alliance Without Borders, said the killings "crystalize the increasingly 
hostile and violent atmosphere created by failed U.S. border policies."

Members of the self-professed border guardian groups denied any connection 
to last week's deaths. Glenn Spencer, founder of American Border Patrol, 
based in Sierra Vista, 19 miles north of the Mexican border, said his 
associates carried weapons during their patrols only for protection against 
mountain lions.

But Mr. Spencer, 65, acknowledged that his goal was to repatriate all 
illegal immigrants, even ones who have been in the country for years.

"They're able to outsmart us all the time," Mr. Spencer said of the 
migrants. "I'm not interested in enforcing the law. It's about telling the 
American people what's going on at the border."

Roger Barnett, who lives on a 22,000-acre ranch two miles north of the 
border, near Douglas, and who heads Ranch Rescue, the most visible of the 
citizens' patrol groups, said coyotes were responsible for the killings 
last week. The border was "out of control," Mr. Barnett said.

"The government has left us alone out here - they forgot about us," Mr. 
Barnett said from his tow-truck shop in Sierra Vista. "They got one hell of 
a problem here with these invasions from Mexico."

Mr. Barnett, who has allied himself with Mr. Spencer's group, said he and 
his brother, Donald, had detained at least 8,000 illegal immigrants over 
the past four and a half years and turned them over to the United States 
Border Patrol. He said that the migrants, who are made to sit on the 
ground, sometimes "get mouthy with us" and that he was forced to become 
physically aggressive to control them.

"If you go out there and you're not armed, you're a fool," said Mr. 
Barnett, who carries a 9-millimeter pistol. "Who's going to protect you out 

A brochure distributed by one of the citizens' patrols urges volunteers 
around the country to "come and stay at the ranches and help keep 
trespassers from destroying private property." Next to a headline that 
reads "Fun in the Sun," the invitation says that volunteers "may be 
deputized if necessary."

Members of Ranch Rescue said that, clad in camouflage and armed with 
semiautomatic rifles, they seized about 280 pounds of marijuana a week ago 
from smugglers crossing the border near Lochiel, 65 miles south of Tucson.

Sheriff Marco Antonio Estrada of Santa Cruz County, where Lochiel is, said 
Ranch Rescue teams did not have the training to intercept drug traffickers 
and might lead such smugglers to believe that trafficking was easier, if 
they were not up against federal officers or local deputies.

"I have concerns that they're not really welcome, or really not needed," 
Sheriff Estrada said of the citizens' patrols. "They are not helping law 
enforcement, definitely not."

The known survivor of last week's shootings is being cared for by Mexican 
consular officials in Tucson, who declined to make him available for 
comment because he is a material witness in the case.

Carlos Flores Vizcarra, the consul, said so-called vigilantes who police 
the border "put out a message of fear and intimidation" that prevents a 
resolution of larger questions of immigration.

Farther north, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department is investigating 
the killing of eight men, at least six of them Mexican citizens, whose 
bodies were found from June to September in the desert west of Phoenix. The 
men were gagged and handcuffed or bound with duct tape and elastic bands. 
Seven had been shot in the back of the head; the eighth was stabbed.

Investigators were looking into the possibility that smugglers had killed 
them for their money, or that they were involved in drug trafficking. Lt. 
J. J. Tuttle, a sheriff's department spokesman, said hate groups or 
vigilantes might also be to blame.

A broad expanse of desert in southern Arizona has been the nation's busiest 
region for illegal border crossings for the past five years, with more than 
333,000 arrests by the Border Patrol in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. 
With 261 miles of border, the area has become even more active since the 
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which brought increased enforcement of 
restrictions on crossings in California and Texas.

The harsh conditions of Arizona's deserts led to the deaths of at least 134 
migrants, primarily from dehydration and exposure, in the 2002 fiscal year 
ended Sept. 30, up from 11 in 1998. The number is more than double that of 
the second-most-perilous district, in eastern California, where 63 people 
died in the last fiscal year.

At the scene of the shootings here, yellow police tape fluttered in the 
breeze tonight by the algae-covered pond. On the ground, four sticks were 
arranged in the form of a cross; while underneath them an X had been burned 
into the dirt. David Cook, assistant manager of the Red Rock Custom Feeding 
Company, about a mile west of the pond, recalled his conversation with the 
survivor of the shootings, who had gone there for help in what Mr. Cook 
called a "panicked" state.

"He kept telling me, 'They were soldiers, they were soldiers', " Mr. Cook 
said. "I told him that soldiers don't kill people up here."
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