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Sheriff West surveys the desert “Congress knows about as much about the border as that mesquite bush.” bags filled with tinfoil-wrapped burritos. West says they’ve been made by some of the female inmates in his county jail. “It’s no good:’ he says, making a mock-sour face as he opens a chicken mole burrito. “I’m going to fire the cook.” After eating, West climbs behind the wheel of an ATV called a “mule,” which looks like the Humvee version of a golf cart. The two federal agents take the other Humvee cart, while West’s deputies mount four-wheel ATVs. We head toward the last place the Mexicans saw their companion, a hunting cabin next to a creek. The sheriff drives the mule with abandon. He rolls over 6-foot ocotillos like they were toothpicks. Then he charges down a steep incline toward a riverbed. I notice his deputies and the two federal agents lagging behind, waiting to see if West makes it. “Maybe I should get out here and walk,” I say. “Are you chickening out on me, too?” the sheriff asks, gesturing dismissively toward the deputies. I decide to walk. West gives a cattle-herding whoop and floors the gas. The ATV does its best to scramble up the other side of the riverbed, then slides backward with a groan and bottoms out in the sand. “Dang,” the sheriff mutters, his face red from exertion. “Grab some shovels. We’re going to have to fill in the riverbed.” After about 45 minutes, the deputies have filled the riverbed with enough sand to get West’s ATV up the other side. Meantime, one of the deputies has found an easy crossing further down the riverbed. He rolls up on his ATV on the other side. No one says anything. West floors the gas pedal and charges up the bank. The rest of the deputies and the federal agents follow, heaving their ATVs up the incline. The deputies race around and ahead of one another on their ATVs, cracking jokes. The two federal agents follow behind, crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in the front seat of their ATV. “Aw, looks like they’re on a date West says loudly. About an hour later, we arrive at the hunting cabin, a tinroofed shack near an old windmill. Two green-and-white Border Patrol trucks are already there. Two Latino officers in their early 20S wait outside. They are new to this border, their “yes sirs” and “no sirs” in stark contrast to the sheriff’s deputies, who break out the cooler again and down the remaining burritos. The Border Patrol is a sore point with West and other border sheriffs. After neglecting the agency for years, Congress has poured more than $26 billion into its operations since the mid-199os. The agency’s 2009 budget for hiring, training, and equipping new agents was $442 million. The number of agents is supposed to double from 2000 levels, to 20,000 by the end of this year. Most of the new agents on West’s terrain are young and from cities like Dallas or Phoenix. Sierra Blanca is the sticks, considered a hardship post. Most agents can’t wait to see it in their rearview mirrors. To West’s way of thinking, the patrol spends too much time looking for footprints in the sand near the interstate, and too little on the river. “What I need for them to do is get their butts down on the river and hold that line,” he’d told me earlier that day. “When that line is breached, we’ll be happy to back you up and pick up what’s breached that line. “They’ll tell you they make a calculated pass by the river,” West said, “but then once they’re gone it’s like a Cheech and Chong movie’ Finishing their Gatorades, the deputies fan out into the desert to look for the missing man. The sheriff goes inside the cabin. He points to a wooden sign with red painted letters in Spanish, saying: “Welcome, come in and enjoy yourselves. This is the house of a poor man. You can use it but don’t destroy it! Vaya con dios, El Gringo.” The white walls are covered with hundreds of names and dates, written in charcoal and pencil, going back to 1907. One woman had carefully written her family’s names across the wall: “Rosy Peres, su hijo Evedi y su esposo Favio.” An old tin chest sits on the floor, containing cooking oil, soup cans, sardines and other dry goods. In another room are some old camp beds. “You’ve got to have a heart for these people,” West says. “Why can’t we take the approach of the Bracero Program [which ran from the 194os to the 196os], where they can work here for so many years, and if they decide to assimilate and become American citizens, then allow them that opportunity.” He sits back in an old wooden chair. “You are allowed to come and participate in the luxuries we have as American citizens, but 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 30, 2009