Some American Border-Dwellers Say The US Patrol Is the Real 'Invader'
CAMPO, CALIF. — ELIZABETH MILLS stands on a high point of her property from which she can peruse the US-Mexico border and says, ''This is getting to be Russia, USA, out here.''
Like most of her American neighbors in sparsely populated east San Diego County, Mrs. Mills is outraged by the changes her once-peaceful world has experienced over the past year. While many of her neighbors are upset at the large numbers of illegal aliens passing through, she's more concerned at the actions of those determined to stem that tide. Mrs. Mills, her family, and a small circle of friends are aggravated about what they consider an ''occupation'' of their land by the rapidly expanding US Border Patrol.
''We face daily searches and invasion of private property by arrogant agents, a highway checkpoint that's something out of a war zone, and suspicion that we're the drug-runners because we chose to live on the border,'' says Steve Mills, Mrs. Mills's husband.
''That's not my idea,'' she quips, ''of the land of the free.''
The Millses lament the passing of a simpler time along the border, which fronts their property. ''Every property along the border used to have a [gated] fence so you could just go over into Mexico and retrieve your stray animals,'' says Mrs. Mills. ''Now they come in and tell us that's illegal.''
The sentiments expressed by the Millses sound familiar. Border Patrol representatives say they occasionally run into this kind of hostility - but they insist people that like the Millses are in the minority.
''Some people see the [Border Patrol-manned] checkpoint up on the highway as an invasion of their rights,'' says Campo area resident John Kasovia. ''But if that's what it takes to get this illegal-alien problem settled, then I'm all for it.''
SUCH a response is exactly what the government is looking for, others say. ''That's the Orwellian aspect of this whole buildup,'' says Wayne Johnson, a local airplane mechanic and the Millses friend.
''They're very cleverly frothing all this up so that people will say they are willing to give up a few rights to this kind of police activity. But you give an inch,'' he adds, ''and you're on your way to Gestapo Germany.''
Out of principle, Mr. Johnson takes secondary roads to skirt the highway checkpoint.
The clash between the Millses and the Border Patrol led to an incident last March in which a car search turned into a row between an agent and the Millses' teenage son. Mr. Mills claims his son was ''beaten up in front of me just to humiliate me,'' while the Border Patrol claims the Millses' son was arrested after he became uncontrollable.
The Millses' plan to follow up on pending criminal charges against their son with a civil rights suit.
Mr. Mills says he has been warned by civil rights attorneys and a militia group from San Diego that if he sues the government, he can count on being set up.
Moreover, Mrs. Mills claims a well-dressed Mexican walked onto her property recently, laid a bundle of money on her backyard hot tub, and in perfect English offered her family $50,000 to occasionally leave their home.
''The implication was the house would be used as a drug way-station,'' Mr. Mills says, ''but we think that was the setup.''
Officials consider such stories ''absurd paranoia.'' But one thing seems clear: With the Border Patrol planning further reinforcement in the border's rural areas, sentiments like the Millses' can be expected to rise.
''It's the law-and-order growth industry,'' says Johnson, a libertarian. ''What the Border Patrol does best is convince the American taxpayers that it needs more money from their deep pockets.''