Border family's strange encounters with illegal crossers
The Garners' world includes security drills, self-defense lessons, and a gun on the hip for mom
The Garner family on Purdy Lane doesn't know exactly how many chickens, roosters, Guinea hens, or geese they own on their 5-acre farm in this dusty town on the US-Mexico border.Skip to next paragraph
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But they know the number is smaller than the number of illegal immigrants who can be seen daily in groups of three, 10, 40, 60, and more on their property. They are often huddled in centipede form (hands on the hips of the person in front), kneeling under windows, crouched behind trees, and sleeping in their egg house.
Mr. Garner, a carpenter, his wife, and three daughters (age 10, 12, and 15) tell countless stories that are as alarming to outsiders as they are matter-of-fact to them. Theirs is a life dominated by self-defense lessons, family practice drills to huddle in the master bedroom, obligatory two-way radios for kids who walk to school, and a handgun on the hip for mom.
Although violent encounters are relatively rare, their stories tell a narrative of how surreal - and spooky - life can be for families that straddle the 1,400-mile Maginot Line known as the US-Mexican border.
"You'll be weeding in your garden and turn around to see 20 of them standing in front of you, demanding water and food," says Dawn Garner, the mother.
"I come out to go to school, and they are changing their clothes under my bedroom window," says daughter Shayne.
"They leave backpacks filled with drugs on the lawn," says sister Ciara. "It's scary and creepy."
Despite increasingly harsh crackdowns over the years by the US Border Patrol (both pre- and post-911), the presence of illegal immigrants is also a growing phenomenon, says Ms. Garner, who grew up here in Naco, population 7,000. And it is more dangerous and pernicious, she says, with a growing number of people of different nationalities coming across the border, including from the Middle East, India, and Afghanistan.
The evidence of that comes in Islamic prayer rugs found in the desert dust, Arabic literature left by still-warm campfires, and Afghani head garb caught on cactus quills. The FBI also recently found a drug tunnel beneath the bedroom of a schoolmate of one of the Garner girls, with $250,000 cash hidden inside.
"The diversity of those who are coming across has grown and their desperation has definitely heightened," she says. "Years ago, they would politely ask you for water outside. Now you come home and someone is in your house, eating your food, trashing your bedroom, stealing your stuff, and leaving garbage everywhere."
Stories like those of the Garners are being corroborated from San Diego to Houston this week as the high-profile citizen's effort known as the Minutemen Project unfolds across a 20-40 mile section of the border here. A woman who lives in Laredo, Texas, tells of being choked in her own bedroom and being yanked off her horses. A San Diego couple complains of fields strewn with plastic bottles and human excrement.
But the most intense scrutiny is coming, here south of Tucson, where last year agents apprehended 500,000 migrants, catching - they say - only one in three who attempt to cross. By placing citizen volunteers at outposts 300 yards apart, the minuteman group is hoping to prove a point: that the influx of illegal immigrants could be slowed, if not stopped, at even the border's most porous sections if the Border Patrol could carry out similar saturation patrolling.