A Quiet Invasion?

With the support of a slain ranger's parents, a signature drive to militarize the border is gaining strength

It's been 20 months since Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument park ranger Kris Eggle was killed by a member of a Mexican drug cartel, but his parents are continuing their fight for stricter border regulations.

"Kris would still be alive today if we had strength on that border," says Bonnie Eggle, an elementary school teacher. "We feel it's time to do something before someone else's son or daughter is killed."

On April 6, the couple was in Las Vegas, telling their son's story and lending support to a Nevada-based petition drive calling for the militarization of the U.S. border. The effort is led by Las Vegan Lawrence Pappas, who says his group, Secured Borders USA, has collected more than 508,000 notarized signatures since its launch in November. Pappas' goals are much loftier: 50 million. And if he achieves it, Pappas says, it will be hard for lawmakers to ignore.

"We need to put the military on the border to help the Border Patrol," says Pappas, executive director of Secured Borders. "A U.S. park ranger shouldn't have to defend our nation. He's there to tell people about our park."

Thousands of illegal immigrants enter through the Arizona desert daily, and figures show the numbers are rising. In March, more than 63,000 illegal immigrants were caught by Border Patrol agents in the Tucson sector alone.

In Las Vegas, more than 300 people attended the town meeting at the Tuscany Hotel and Casino; it was by far Secured Borders' largest event. The Eggles told the crowd that they were aware of the dangers Kris faced working in Organ Pipe. They'd heard first-hand the stories of the drug mules and people-smuggling going on, and--as it continues still--they feel that the government is taking a "finger in the dyke" approach.

"Illegal immigration is getting out of control, getting chaotic, and there is a lack of concern by our government; the White House and Congress (refuse) to do anything to stop it," Bob Eggle said to applause. "We are not opposed to immigration. We are only opposed to illegal immigration and the crime it brings."

But efforts are underway to secure the Arizona border. On March 16, Border and Transportation Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson unveiled the Arizona Border Control Initiative. Under the plan, 260 additional Border Patrol agents are being deployed in the Tucson sector; unmanned aerial vehicles will be put into use in June to monitor border activities; and four more helicopters will take to the air.

At Organ Pipe, more law-enforcement officers have been added, and officials are replacing a flimsy barbwire fence with a 5-foot-high vehicle barrier constructed of railroad ties. The fence, five miles of which is complete, will eventually run the entire length of the park. Organ Pipe shares 31 miles of the border with Mexico.

"It's a start," Bonnie Eggle admits, "but it's certainly not enough."

Bob Eggle adds, "We vowed on that spot in the desert sand where our son fell and died, that we would make sure his death meant something. We want our borders controlled."

Pappas calls the situation a "quiet invasion" of America, saying it's become a cat-and-mouse game in the Arizona desert. He says undocumented workers are seeking "to take over this area of the country," and that President Vicente Fox of Mexico should focus his attention on reviving the country's ailing economy instead of exporting labor to America and importing those workers' paychecks.

Secured Borders has attracted criticism, and Pappas said he's received death threats on his answering machine, but he vows to continue the fight and defends his mission.

"I'm not a racist," Pappas says. "I believe anyone who wants to come into the country legally should be welcomed with open arms. We have a process that needs to be followed. Anyone who enters illegally is a criminal."

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