Migrants worry remote West Texas area's residents

The Associated Press
May 22, 2011, 9:40PM

FORT HANCOCK, Texas — Some residents of remote and sparsely settled areas of southern Hudspeth and El Paso counties in West Texas call their area "almost America."

Residents live on edge in the rugged area founded on the south by Mexico and on the three other compass points by U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints.

The reason: illegal border crossers, including drug smugglers, trying to elude U.S. Border Patrol agents.

"Almost America" is how Hudspeth County Commissioner Jim Ed Miller characterizes the condition he and his neighbors confront. His property is about a mile east of the Fort Hancock border crossing. He told the El Paso Times for a story published in Sunday's editions that so many illegal immigrants and smugglers cross his property that he should charge a toll.

The Border Patrol told the newspaper in a statement that the area has "defense-in-depth" with highly trained border patrols and high-tech sensors augmenting the checkpoints.

"We do not live in fear," said Miller's wife, Karen Miller.

However, Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West said the patrol does little in the area and the threat of violence remains palpable.

West has become widely known for his reports of border incursions, his warnings about violence spilling over the border from Mexico and his advice for area border residents to arm themselves. Despite the shooting of two Hispanic U.S. citizens by a property owner near Sierra Blanca last week, West stands by his advice.

"What is the definition of spillover violence? Do you need to see blood and guts before it's a spillover?" he said. Rather, he contends that anything that affects life on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande is "spillover violence."

Miller said he equipped his hired hands one day with two-way radios so they could quickly report any run-ins with any suspected smugglers or illegal immigrants. One of his workers returned at the end of the day and told Miller that the leader of a group of illegal border crossers threatened to kill him if he radioed in the report.

An increased number of Border Patrol agents have not delivered results, Miller and his neighbors said.

Not so, the Border Patrol said in its statement to the Times. The increased use of technology and number of agents from 55 in 2005 to 172 last year has discouraged border crossers in Fort Hancock, a border town of about 1,700 residents 50 miles southeast of El Paso.

The situation will not change dramatically until the drugs being trafficked illegally are legalized in the United States, Miller said.

"If we legalize it, you take all the profit out of it," he said, acknowledging that legalization would be controversial.

Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com