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make sure I’m not confused, not thinking it’s the migrants trying to sneak into the country who throw the stones. “It’s the drug ones, you know, not the ones coming to work.” Later, on another part of the line where bushes grow, where it’s possible to climb down to the cool river, where a Mexican family on the other side has spread its cloth to eat lunch, another agent drives up, this one brusque. “Be careful around here, like if you go down to the river, because if we see you coming up, we don’t know who you are,” he says. On another day, as light fades in the August sky, Texas National Guardsmen inside a windowless camera room are intent on a bank of full-light screens and pink-toned night vision screens, working joysticks to pan the views, watching “bodies!’ as they call them, figures on the Mexican side of the river. “I was doing basically the same thing in Iraq, entry points, vehicles, looking for suspicious activity;’ says a 33-year-old from El Paso back from Tikrit. “There they were penetrating the wall around our base. This is like they’re penetrating our home. We don’t want terrorists to come in!’ Another soldier watches for “massing;’ a gathering of several figures who might come across in a group and overwhelm a single agent. But El Paso has been flooded with rains, and the same river that was low just a few days before runs full and treacherous now. “You’d have to be crazy to try that river tonight,” says a 20-year-old Specialist 4. “Or desperate!’ Nevertheless, hours after sunset Senior Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Garcia is driving the levee roads, amid tumbleweeds that blow up in the dark, catching jackrabbits in the headlight beams, his radio crackling with traffic from soldiers in the camera room and agents on the borderline who are spotting the crazy, or desperate, crossers. Visual on six to eight subjects… Changing clothes… Bodies up on the levee now… Those bodies are running back now… Garcia throws the SUV into four-wheel drive, driving expertly, ready for sinkholes on flats near the marsh. Another radio voice. Five to six subjects. Goin’ up. Running north from Duty exit. “Well, night is the busiest time,” says Garcia, who joined the Border Patrol six years ago. Two spotters… Four guys crouching… Agents respond. Outside San Elizario, Garcia rolls to a stop. From the levee an agent in a patrol car is “cutting” north across the sand with his flashlight beam, looking for tracks. Dogs are barking; other agents search a yard with flashlights. Garcia peers into a ditch. For now, they get away. Watching these agents, it’s clear that they are well trained, ready for anything. Some have specialized degrees, many served in the armed forces themselves. Deterrence through ubiquity and obvious surveillance is the policy, but if someone breaches the line, they know the pathways. It seems tonight that only the sheer number of those who try to cross the border illegally means some get through. Garcia drives more miles along the borderline, until he pulls up alongside a white pickup. Inside, an agent is behind the wheel, watching a small, green screen divided into quadrants mounted on his dashboard. Standing high in the truck bed is a FLIR, or forward looking infrared camera, trained south. Only days before, a lone patroller nearby captured a group of 10 migrants, and two drug runners with 90 pounds of marijuana in duffels. Without the FLIR, says the agent at the dashboard screen, that lone patroller would have caught the escaping drug runners, but missed the drugs they jettisoned, which the FLIR’s eye saw. Garcia is thoughtful. “Every day what we’re doing out here is a war against terrorafter 9/11 that became number one;’ he says. And “you can’t say it’s militarizing the border” to have the soldiers here. “You don’t see military vehicles running up and down the line, and again, the Guard has no direct power to arrest!’ The desert is silent except for the cry of cicadas. The FUR agent never takes his eyes off the screen, and suddenly he is sending a message. One spotter trying to get on the river… Should pop out any minute… Pi’s, continued from page 5 border passed through Austin in late August for the 24th annual Border Governors Conference. The big issue was, of course, immigration. The conference brought together a diverse group: governors from California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas \(two Republicans, ican border states. Yet the range of discussionat least publicly, most of the meetings were held behind closed doorswas limited. Texas Gov. Rick Perry set the tone early by announcing that “border security” would be his No. 1 priority. And what about a guest worker program or paths to legalization for immigrants? “You cannot have a workable program of immigration until you have the border secured,” Perry said, playing to the more hardcore security-first camp of the Republican Party, whom he’ll need to win re-election this fall. Along with the three other U.S. governors, Perry signed a frank letter at the conference to key congressional leaders calling on them to quit dithering and pass an immigration reform bill. “In all of our states, we face a crisis not of our making,” the governors wrote. Meanwhile, not far away, immigrant rights advocates convened a shadow conventionthe Second Alternative Border Communities Conference where activists laid out a radically different vision for the border region. “Brothers and sisters, we are here to call for a just border that permits the free movement of people, not just goods and capital,” said Richard Moore, executive director of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice. Some in the press didn’t react well. “I’ve had enough; these people don’t have credibility,” mumbled a reporter for the Austin affiliate of Fox News while activists held a press conference. A Hispanic man was speaking at the lectern about the governors’ “excluding the public from the meeting;” “trying to build a physical wall to separate the two countries;” and “violating migrant rights.” It was a different message from what reporters heard at the official event. But few seemed to be listening. Mary Jo McConahay is an independent journalist and contributing editor for New America Media. 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 8, 2006