The canvas is torn and ragged, exposing the raw, blistered skin within. The thin soles are filled with holes, and laces are only a memory. But still, Perenza--a wiry, longhaired teen with a tooth-gapped grin--managed to hike the 300 miles from the Mexican city just south of El Paso, Texas, to the Arizona border.
Leaning against the rickety fence that separates Nogales, Sonora, from Nogales, Arizona, Perenza explains why every step was worth it. It wasn't because, like many Mexicans, he nurtures lofty goals of the American dream. Nor is he fleeing repressive political stagnation.
"I want to live in America so bad," he says, smiling wickedly, "because you have the most beautiful women in the world. I want to party!"
Perenza's hormones drove him to steal into this country through El Paso, where he repeatedly slipped across the border--six, seven times," he says--only to be caught with dispatch by the U.S. Border Patrol and returned to Mexico.
Experience really is the best teacher. "After a few times, I start to think, Texas no good," Perenza says. "Too many of your federales."
Then he heard about the promised land--Nogales.
"Friends tell me, to cross at Nogales is easy," he says. "Everybody knows now. Arizona is the best."
According to a Border Patrol estimate, this year a record half-million Mexicans--many of them with much more sinister motives--will follow Perenza on his Arizona journey. The word is out: If you want to enter the United States illegally, the Arizona border, especially around Nogales, is the place to be.
A long history of immigration woes, combined with last year's protracted debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement, have made most Arizonans weary of tales about border problems. So weary, in fact, that most haven't yet awakened to the realization that the border is out of control.
During the past six months, the situation has become increasingly chaotic; the Arizona border has deteriorated into merely a legal distinction, as thousands of immigrants pass unhindered through gaping holes in the fence while Border Patrol agents stand by helplessly. Day and night, the flow of humanity never abates.
Along with this unprecedented number of illegals has come an equally unprecedented explosion of crime, violence and tumult.
The situation is so dangerous for the handful of Border Patrol officers deployed in Nogales that they were recently forced to abandon their posts and retreat a block from the border fence--in effect ceding the international frontier to the hordes of illegal aliens who are swarming across it with impunity. In the history of American immigration control, it is an unprecedented retreat.
The cause of this wave of immigration into Arizona is no secret. During 1993, massive, well-financed federal efforts to repel the legions of illegal immigrants in other border states were successful. But the good fortune of California and Texas has proved to be Arizona's calamity. The deterrent efforts have reconfigured migration patterns, channeling ever-increasing numbers of immigrants like Perenza in the direction of Nogales, Douglas and Yuma.
Undermanned and outgunned--and with the worst ratio of officers to miles of any state with a Mexican border--the Arizona contingent of the Border Patrol is powerless to stop the immigration blitzkrieg.
In press accounts of this phenomenon, the sudden wave of Mexican aliens crashing into Arizona has been depicted as a sort of unhappy accident, the unavoidable result of the war on illegal immigration.
But it is no accident. It is, Washington, D.C.-based Border Patrol officials admit, part of a deliberate plan. They confirm that current federal strategies call for Arizona to take the brunt of the immigration wave--until some unspecified point in the future, when equally unspecified steps will be taken to stem the tide.
"We have long recognized that Arizona would be the victim of border-control methods in adjacent states," says Duke Austin, the Border Patrol's Washington, D.C., spokesman.
But recent events indicate that Arizona will be forced to continue carrying the immigration burden for our neighbor states to the east and west, whose political clout enables them to capture a larger slice of funding and resources for border defense.
Critics charge that high-ranking federal officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno, are using politics to decide which areas of the border will be protected, and which will be overrun. This is happening at a time when Arizona is losing clout on immigration issues, with the upcoming retirement of veteran Senator Dennis DeConcini.
Evidence of how partisan power politics, not need, is driving U.S. border policy can be found in the allocation of new Border Patrol officers. Of 1,000 new agents who are being hired this year to stem the tide of illegal aliens, only 33--mostly secretaries and support personnel--are bound for the troubled Arizona line.