ONE MILE NORTH OF THE MEXICAN BORDER, CALIF.--
ANYBODY WHO is unhappy with this country, please step forward. Then step aside.
There are more than 600,000 Mexicans who would love to take your place. They will walk 50 miles through Arizona deserts to replace you, too. They will climb into hollowed-out gas tanks with no ventilation and try to ride across the border in 110 degree heat. They will remove the radiators from their cars and place friends in the hood as they try to drive through customs.
They will pack their entire family into the trunk of a smuggler's car and ride for several hours until they reach Los Angeles. They will spend hundreds of dollars for a safe passage just to San Diego. And many will die in the process.
Some will collapse from the desert heat. Others will be knifed, raped or shot by vigilantes known as border bandits. Others will die from being next to a car engine in 110 degree heat for several hours.
THERE ARE some of the sad but true facts I learned while on a trip to the San Ysidro Mexican border. I have already taken much flak from friends for being in the second car of a high speed chase during which the Border Patrol scared a truckful of illegal aliens back through a hole in the fence to Mexico.
I was disappointed to learn that only my father-but not I--would be allowed in the Border Patrol helicopter to shine bright lights down on the Mexicans trying to cross the border illegally late at night.
The men and women who work for the Border Patrol reluctantly admit that their job is like a game, like trying to stop a running hose with your finger. We met with the mounted patrolmen late at night. The sound of their hoofs beating down the dirt road in complete darkness was enough to scare us halfway back to the safety of our car. There were only five of them, but they sounded like an angry posse coming to get us.
The men on horseback said that they hadn't found too many illegals in the place they were covering and that they usually have better luck a bit down the road. It was as though they were talking about fishing, rather than the future of many people's lives.
Then, on the other hand, many of the patrolmen realize they are merely doing their job. "If I were on the other side," said one of the men we talked to, "there's no way you could keep me out of this country." Other officers echoed this sentiment.
AVERAGE WAGES in most of Mexico are about $3.50 a day. Many Mexicans come to the United States, earn real wages working on a farm, and then go back to Tijuana and live like comparative kings. Others go to jail.
I felt both pleasure and disappointment at the fact that Border Patrol estimates that they only apprehend one of every two or three who try to cross over illegally. Last year, they caught over 600,000 illegals. The U.S. Immigration Service doesn't know how many made it.
The chief Border Patrol officer took us down to an area known as the "soccer field". This area, officially part of U.S. territory, is the final stop for most illegals before they try to make it into the States. It got its name because there is nothing to do except play soccer while waiting for it to get dark enough to cross the border.
The Border Patrol has ceded this area to the Mexicans rather than try to police it. Vendors hawk hot dogs and sodas to try to make money off the soon-to-be-Americans. There is a National Enquirer article hanging in the Border Patrol Airport lamenting the fact that the Mexicans have taken over this part of America and "we are powerless to stop it."
There was no electrified fence. Not even a moat with huge walls. No Jack Nicholson in mirrored sunglasses standing arms akimbo with a german shepherd by his side waiting to shoot the first thing that moved across the line. Just 300 Mexicans--Hondurans, Costa Ricans, Nicaraguans, and Portugese too, but mostly Mexicans--wandering around one side of an invisible line waiting for night fall.
The Chief took us down across the canyon to talk to some of the would-be-crossers. I expected them to shy away from our van and the two men in it with green uniforms, shiny black boots and guns. Some did. Others came right up to the door of the van.
We asked them how many times they had tried to cross before. Some lied, said they were American citizens living in San Diego. Others admitted this was their third or fourth try. Technically, they were already in American and we were with the Border Patrol just rapping in Spanish with them.
They asked us to wish them luck in their evening activity. We said good luck, and drove right by them. I don't know if we caught them that night.