Following the Amnesty Trail

Leo W. Banks follows one of Arizona's most popular illegal alien crossing routes and finds piles of garbage, trampled public lands, angry residents and the suspected presence of a vicious gang

In the coming weeks, as President Bush and the Democrat-controlled Congress take up immigration reform, and the political talk turns to amnesty, everyone living along border smuggling routes will hunker down to wait for the worst. They know their lives will get miserable in a hurry.

The word amnesty possesses remarkable power on the Mexican side of the line. It has the same effect as a starter's pistol.

Bang! Let the land rush begin.

It happened after Jan. 7, 2004, when Bush floated his idea for a temporary worker program. The idea was broadly viewed in Mexico as amnesty, and the Border Patrol's own survey proved it. In the weeks following the proposal, the agency quietly questioned crossers apprehended at the southern border and found the president's plan had caused a big spike in illegal crossings. Forty-five percent said they'd entered our country "to get Bush's amnesty."

Nowhere will the coming stampede be more evident than on the smuggling routes that begin at the border at Sasabe, 65 miles southwest of Tucson, curl up through the Altar Valley and continue all the way to the Ironwood Forest National Monument, a full 75 miles north of the border.

The dozens of trails that course through this wide swath of land have one thing in common--they cross Ajo Highway, also known as State Highway 86. The illegals moving north know that Border Patrol enforcement falls off significantly north of 86, just as it does north of Interstate 10, another major east-west thoroughfare across Southern Arizona.

Breach Highway 86, and they win amnesty--that's what illegals working this popular trail believe, as Border Patrol agents and residents have reported to me.

I recently walked and drove major portions of the Amnesty Trail. I talked to people who live along the path of this remorseless invasion, borrowed some photographs of its effects, and took some of my own. Together, these words and pictures provide a documentary account of the ongoing catastrophe on Arizona's border and beyond.

Those who walk the Amnesty Trail enter the country through the Sasabe Corridor, a roughly 10-mile-wide stretch of land between the San Luis and Baboquivari mountains. In 2004, an estimated 250,000 illegals crossed into the U.S. along this corridor, and about the same number crossed in 2005.

The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge has 5 1/2 miles of border within the corridor. Its land has been badly staggered by illegal immigration and drug smuggling, and visitors can see evidence of it within moments of arriving. The parking lot is surrounded by steel rails and a locked gate, and the office has bars on the windows and expensive security doors.

It looks like a building in a dangerous inner-city neighborhood, not an 118,000-acre preserve in some of Arizona's most picturesque land.

But the measures were necessary following six break-ins at staff housing in January and February 2006, and the theft of five vehicles from the parking lot in the same period. Refuge Manager Mitch Ellis sounds almost forlorn talking about it. "I feel like I'm in jail sitting in my office," he says.

He has reason to be saddened. There are now 1,500-2,000 miles of illegal trails on Refuge land. Illegal crossers left 500 tons of trash for staff and volunteers to pick up in 2004, and about the same amount in 2005. "I know it sounds unbelievable, but we cranked the numbers," says Ellis.

The open border has also brought violent death to the Buenos Aires. The refuge in 2005 recorded four homicides likely committed by border bandits preying on illegals, and three more illegals had to be rescued after being shot.

The hardest-hit area is below Garcia Road, a dirt track running east to west about a mile north of the border. This parcel became such a hotbed of criminal activity that in October, Ellis ordered 3,500 acres off limits to the public--American land effectively taken out of American hands by the invaders.

"I essentially moved the border back a mile," says Ellis. "I had to. It was too dangerous to have my security people and volunteers there repairing the fence every day."

The vehicle barriers (shown in the top photo, with two Border Patrol agents alongside) run along the international border in the refuge's closed section. These heavy steel Xs, with a horizontal bar welded between them, are designed to stop drug drive-throughs. Installation of the barriers began last fall, and they now stretch for a mile and a half.

The arrival of the National Guard last summer, following a beefed-up Border Patrol presence that began in April 2006, has reduced the number of illegal crossings in the whole Sasabe Corridor by, as Ellis guesses, "about 25 percent."

"The Border Patrol was catching 200 illegals a night in April, and within six months, they'd knocked that back to 50 a week," he says. "They proved that if you want to gear up to control a portion of the border, you can do it."

But Ellis acknowledges that even these heavy barriers, which will stretch across the entire corridor within a year, are not smuggler-proof, and as a recent episode shows, they'll need frequent maintenance.

One night last month, drug gangsters descended upon an X barrier west of Sasabe. With a tarp over their heads to prevent National Guard observers from seeing the sparks, they used a blowtorch to sever the horizontal bar and retreated. The next morning, they opened the barrier, drove into our country with a drug load, closed the horizontal bar again and proceeded north. They were spotted and chased back into Mexico.

Ellis tells this story as we drive the dirt roads of the refuge, and the more he talks, the more melancholy he becomes.

"I don't think people understand the impact of our little war here on the border. There's a lot of collateral damage to residents, land and homes." He shrugs. "Maybe people think it's worth the sacrifice. Corporate America does. They don't want the government coming into their businesses and taking half their workforce away, and that's the issue we're not addressing."

The National Guard has five observation posts here. At one of them, a commander says his troops recently saw armed men wearing dark uniforms moving with military precision along the Mexican line. With a grim chuckle, the commander tells me, "We call this place Iraq with bushes."

From the Sasabe Corridor, the Amnesty Trail cuts through several ranches in the vast Altar Valley on the way up to Highway 86. The open border has turned this land into a modern-day frontier, an essentially lawless place where some residents have no choice but to fortify their properties and hope for the best.

In six years of living at the 37,000-acre Palo Alto Ranch, Jason Cathcart's house has been burglarized 16 times, the last hit coming in June 2006. He'd just put bars on the window and installed a security door, and he thought he had the problem licked.

Then he ran out to run a quick errand, forgetting to lock the security door. He was gone an hour, but it was long enough. The bandit, who was probably watching the house, kicked in the door behind the security door, leaving a big boot print on it.

For a time, Cathcart hid his valuables inside the house--in a false ceiling in his closet. But in the summer of 2005, the bandits found this cubbyhole and swiped his pistol. "I finally broke down and bought a safe," says the 27-year-old cowboy.

In riding the desert on horseback, Cathcart has found hypodermic needles, diapers and baby clothes, and two human skulls. The latter at first appeared to be small white balls in the distance. Overall, he has found four bodies.

In July 2005, Cathcart was out riding when he saw a water bottle at the side of a road, and beside it, a pair of tennis shoes in perfect alignment, as if under a bed. When he looked into the brush, he saw a shirtless person sitting up against a tree, dead.

He initially thought it was a man. When he drew closer, he saw a breast, but only one. The second breast was gone. It had, in Cathcart's word, "exploded" when the body bloated in the July sun.

Now, when something catches his eye, he tries not to look.

"The other day, I jumped some buzzards off a smuggler trail and said to myself, 'Don't you go there,'" says Cathcart. "But curiosity got me, and I turned my horse and went back. It was a rabbit.

"I've had nightmares about that big, old, bloated woman sitting there, and I sure don't care to see another one."

John and Pat King own the Anvil Ranch immediately north of the Palo Alto. Traffic through this portion of the Amnesty Trail has been lighter than usual the past six months, in part because of the National Guard units stationed to the south.

But Pat King knows that will change soon. "The last time they talked amnesty, the traffic through here quadrupled," says the 63-year-old former Tucson nurse.

For the Kings, that means more pointless vandalism of their property, more bodies and more bicycles as drug dealers join the rush. The third photo shows a collection of about 50 drug bikes the Kings have found on the Anvil, 38 miles north of the border.

Burreros, or mules, ride the bikes across the line loaded with product, then abandon them in the desert. "We've seen illegals riding bicycles, too," says Pat. "But mostly, it's druggies. There's a bunch more bikes out in the desert."

The 50,000-acre Anvil has been so heavily crossed by illegals and drug smugglers that for the past nine years, John and Pat have been unable to leave their house unguarded. If they did, they say bandits would descend upon it within hours.

John and Pat must plan every move to thwart the worst elements among the throngs moving north. The Kings cannot celebrate Christmas together as a family. They'd like to be able to travel to Green Valley to spend the day with the grandkids, but that's only possible if someone stays home to guard the property.

"Our strategy is to stay visible," says Pat. But that doesn't always work.

Three years ago, Pat arranged for her cousin, Irene, to stay at the ranch while everyone attended a family funeral in Tucson. As Irene washed a car in the front yard, a Border Patrol bus arrived to haul out some illegals.

After the bus departed, Irene saw three illegals approach a gate about 100 yards away. Barking ranch dogs drove them away. But the illegals returned with sticks and forced the dogs to retreat. The men entered the front yard of an adjacent house--there are four on the Kings' property--at which point Irene fled into the main house and called the Border Patrol again.

The dispatcher said they were busy with the busload and would try to find somebody to send. From a window, Irene saw the men leaving the adjacent yard. They'd burglarized the house, rifling through the kitchen cabinets and tossing mattresses, and carrying their booty away in pillowcases.

Irene was so shaken up that Pat no longer asks her to housesit.

In the Altar Valley, law enforcement is sketchy at best. At a meeting with the Pima County Sheriff's Department a few years back, a deputy told Pat that if she has any trouble at her ranch, she should fill out incident-report forms and send them in, "because we're not going to get out there." The turnoff to the ranch is only eight miles south of Three Points on paved Highway 286.

As for the undermanned Border Patrol, they might be 10 minutes away or two hours away. Or they don't come at all. An illegal once came into the Kings' front yard and demanded food. Pat refused but offered water. The man said, "No, I want food." He marched onto the porch, sat in a chair, folded his hands behind his head and said he was going nowhere.

"I called the Border Patrol, but they never showed up," says Pat, who was alone. "I was stuck inside the house for 45 minutes before he left."

John King, who was raised on the ranch, remembers his dad hiring Mexican guest workers under the old Bracero program, which operated from 1942-1964. He favors such a plan today, but only after the border is secured. "It's sorry when the government won't protect American citizens on the border," he says. "I don't understand why Bush and this bunch in Washington is so afraid of Mexico."

The fourth photo shows the Kings' daughter, Micaela McGibbon, inspecting brush-hut shelters that illegals have built in a secluded wash two miles from the Kings' front door. Among the litter around these huts, McGibbon has found handbooks advising illegals on their rights in the United States.

"My great-grandfather came here from California with two quarters in his pocket," says McGibbon, who lives with her husband on a ranch near Green Valley. "He became a successful cattleman, and that's the American dream. You work hard and give something to your family. I'm proud of my parents' ranch.

"But to come over here and abuse the system, that's what we have a problem with."

Highway 86 near Three Points, 45 miles north of the Mexican border, is a key milestone on the Amnesty Trail. All night long, Border Patrol agents patrol here, checking vehicle tags in a search of coyote cars.

This heavy enforcement falls off considerably north of the highway. Illegals able to sprint across the pavement into the north-side desert have reached what some call the got-away zone. But many illegals still face a walk of 30 miles to their prearranged pickup spot in the Ironwood.

Why not arrange a pickup on Highway 86 and save those extra foot miles? The enforcement on 86 is one reason. Another: The deserts north of 86 are cobwebbed with hundreds of smuggling routes that give the groups many options in their ultimate goal, which is getting out to Interstate 10, or even Interstate 8 around Casa Grande.

As long as illegals are willing to walk this far north, the coyote sees no downside, says Vic Brown, a law-enforcement supervisor for the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the Ironwood. "The smugglers are bringing their people farther north and giving them stimulants to keep them walking," says Brown. "Eventually, they abandon those people, and those are the ones we find dead in the monument."

A coyote is a cruel creature of habit, and his habits are ruled by cash. If he has used a route successfully, he'll keep using it until it's no longer profitable, even if he loses a few people to death along the way. The Amnesty Trail is highly profitable.

Citizen guides led me to two illegal alien dumpsites on state land about six miles north of Highway 86. We got there on a dirt road that parallels the Trico Electric Cooperative's power lines. The site can only be reached by four-wheel drive, and the last mile can only be traversed on foot. It's on the Amnesty Trail slightly more than 50 miles north of the border.

In spite of its distance from pavement and its seeming emptiness, this desert is by no means safe. Among the trash, we found a black knit balaclava-style mask, with poke holes for the eyes and mouth, commonly used by gangsters guarding drug trains. We also had word that packs of wild dogs, including runaway pit bulls, had been menacing the area.

As shown in the sixth picture, the foot trail leading here is scattered with litter as it ascends into a saddle between the Roskruge and Recortado mountains. Then the horizon opens to this first trash field. Not far beyond lies a second, bigger dumpsite, shown in the next two pictures.

At layup spots such as this, the illegals change clothes to better blend into the American population. Everything they no longer need is tossed on the ground. Slimming down this way also allows them to squeeze more people into each getaway vehicle.

This dump contains every form of human trash imaginable: plastic bottles, toothpaste and toothbrushes, cans of beans, foot powder, hand lotion, shoes, jackets, jeans, lemon for flavoring sodas, playing cards, Red Bull cans, plastic electrolyte bottles, Mexican League baseball cards, Old Spice deodorant, tuna and cat food cans, girls' underwear, women's bras, toilet paper and several liquor bottles, from Viejo Brandy to Viva Villa! Aguardiente.

Wild animals sometimes eat this debris and die, and if the illegals are carrying anything toxic, it can seep into the water supply. Other that that, these trash fields are mostly an eyesore--and a long-lasting one, says Gary Nabhan, director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University.

He says the 1848 California Gold Rush left so much trash in what would become Arizona that it was still visible into the 1950s. This migration from Mexico is far bigger. "We'll be seeing this trash in the desert for 100 years, and no less than 50," Nabhan says.

Such layup spots, many worse than these, now foul the deserts and mountains all across Southern Arizona. Backpacks are the most prominent item. In the dumps pictured, there are so many that we could walk 200 feet without our shoes touching the ground. Attached to many of them are small zipper bags filled with garlic cloves to keep rattlesnakes away from alien camps at night.

Every one of these backpacks represents a new American.

For some illegals, their trek on the Amnesty Trail ends nine miles north of the dumpsites at the Trico powerline gate on Trico Road, a known pickup spot. It's in Avra Valley between Manville and Mile Wide roads, just west of Reservation Road.

The illegals have no trouble following the trail to this place. They simply walk underneath the power poles, as shown in the ninth photo, taken in November by a private citizen with a night-vision camera.

Here, the illegals can lay up and drink at the Humane Borders water tanks just northeast of the gate. The tanks are on city of Tucson property. The land is enclosed by a barbed-wire fence with a sign that warns against trespassing, and cites the statute, a clear warning for American citizens to stay out. But the high-flying blue flag of Humane Borders summons illegal aliens onto that same property.

From the Trico gate, the Silverbell Mine is visible on the horizon to the northwest through Waterman Pass. The mine, surrounded on three sides by Ironwood Monument land, makes an easy landmark to follow.

Once on this portion of the Ironwood, the illegals follow man-made stock ponds to other pickup spots. Then smugglers load them onto vehicles and flee east on dirt roads toward I-10, or north up to I-8, then to cities around the country.

Probably hundreds of illegals a week make it into the Ironwood along this portion of the Amnesty Trail. But an equal number, if not more, use a trail west of the Trico gate. This one goes through the Aguirre Valley on the Tohono O'Odham Reservation, passes Queen's Well and continues northeast into the monument.

In effect, the Amnesty Trail forms a funnel to bring illegal aliens north, and some cynical observers believe it's intended to do exactly that. They say the government has made the following calculation: We don't have the resources to stop these illegals, so let's funnel them through sparsely populated areas, and public and Indian land, out of sight and out of mind, thereby keeping citizens unaware of the severity of the problem.

After reaching the monument, the illegals summon their pickup rides by cell phone, and we can see the result in the tenth photograph, taken April 17, 2006. It shows a horde of illegals clinging to a getaway truck. The owners of the picture requested anonymity. The male of the family said, "I don't want to piss off the coyotes. I'm afraid of what they might do to (my wife) and the animals."

Here's the story behind the picture:

Early in the morning that day, three men arrived at the photographer's home. They'd been in a large group when one of them, a teenage boy, became disabled with blisters and could no longer walk. He was cut loose, and the two others stayed with him.

The photographer and spouse took the strays in, fed them and allowed them to make phone calls. The hours passed through that day and night. One of them offered to sweep the floor, but he was more interested in watching Mexican soap operas on Phoenix TV. "The broom was just to have something in his hand while he watched TV," said the man.

Nobody came to pick them up. They slept outside that night. Early the following morning, the male homeowner heard a load truck coming down the dirt road. He ran out to stop it wearing a sidearm.

Many of those clinging to the truck saw him approaching with the still-holstered weapon, jumped out and began walking away. But others moved toward the homeowner. He says 95 percent of the illegals he encounters are harmless, but for a few seconds, he felt menaced by these men. "I thought they might try to overpower me," he said.

He yelled to the driver, "Tres mas! Tres mas!" after which the approaching men backed off, and the threat passed. But the three overnight guests wanted nothing to do with the passing caravan. The homeowners had to get them off their property, because they were leaving for the day.

The man gripped them by the shoulders and shoved them toward the truck. "The bus is leaving," he kept saying. The homeowners called the Border Patrol numerous times during the 24-hour episode. But they never showed up to get the strays.

My anonymous photographer provided numerous shots of Ironwood load-outs. There are two more here.

The first of these, taken June 15, 2004, is fuzzy, because the truck was traveling at high speed. But it vividly shows the free-for-all nature of human smuggling in the Ironwood.

The second shot shows the sun rising over a stunning saguaro forest on March 31, 2006, as a truckload of illegals roar past, ruining what should be a scene of serenity and beauty.

The 129,000-acre Ironwood, located west of Marana and south of Eloy, is a desert paradise of giant saguaros and spooky black-rock peaks worthy of a gothic novel. President Bill Clinton declared it a federal monument in June 2000.

But the smugglers have turned this signature Arizona landscape into a criminals' playground. The land here is crisscrossed with trails so packed from use, they shine white under the sun. Another Monument resident, Cindy Coping, uses Google Earth to zoom in on the Amnesty Trail, which comes up clear as a bell on her monitor.

What's it like to live here?

If you're out on the land a lot, expect to find the corpses of those who've made the terrible decision to cross this desert. Including the three murders last week, seven bodies were found on the Ironwood in the three months prior to this writing.

One photo, taken sometime in 2000 by my anonymous photographer, shows the skull of a presumed illegal, with other human bones in the foreground. Next to the skull, not pictured, stands a saguaro-rib cross, probably built by companions after the deceased went down.

For those trying to keep cattle on their land, the smugglers have made living in the Ironwood a nightmare. At this writing, rancher Emilio Figueroa says he has 18 head of cattle, valued at $800 each, on Tohono O'odham land immediately west of the monument. They got out when coyotes cut his fence. Now the tribe is refusing to let him onto Indian land to retrieve them. He's out $14,000.

For Cindy's husband, Bob, a 58-year-old retired Raytheon engineer, one of the defining aspects of life on the Ironwood is a particular sound he can hear, literally, a mile away. "I'll be out working and I'll hear, 'wappa-wappa-wappa', and I know it's a load-out truck coming down the road with a flat tire," he says.

The smugglers keep driving on the flat until the rubber flies off. Even then, they don't stop. They keep driving on the tire's rim until that, too, falls off or disintegrates. Sometimes the drive train falls out first.

These smuggler vehicles, most stolen from Phoenix, often travel at night without headlights, with tape over the brake lights, and they've been clocked tearing through the monument's dirt roads at 89 mph. This endangers the lives of residents and visitors alike.

It also ensures that many of these load vehicles--such as the tan truck pictured--never make it out of the monument. They smash into trees and saguaros, or run into ditches. The BLM has towed 300 vehicles a year out of the monument since 2000.

These load-outs, as well as the constant foot traffic, destroy habitat and threaten cultural sites and endangered species. The trash left behind requires pickup crews to have biohazard training and armed guards watching them as they work.

Even worse, Vic Brown says that MS-13, the notoriously vicious Salvadoran gang, might be operating on the monument, based on suspicious tattoos law enforcement has seen on smugglers arrested there. The Border Patrol's public information office in Tucson wouldn't return a call to talk about MS-13 in the monument.

Says Vic Brown: "We're trying to maintain some semblance of a national monument out there, and to be quite honest, we're not able to do it, because undocumented immigrants have targeted the area. I've watched it degrade from when I got there in 1992, and in the last 5 years, it has gotten progressively worse."

The Copings bought their land here in 1995, and since then, they've been eyewitnesses to the explosion of the smuggling trade. In the mid-'90s, it was mainly small family groups that crossed at Sasabe and walked the 75 miles north to the monument, then an additional 18-20 miles to their pickup at Eloy. They rarely used coyotes.

In 2000, the Copings began seeing vehicles, often Ford F-150 pickups, parked at the side of the road. They usually had dark windows, no license plates and the keys resting on a tire. The illegals would drive themselves out to I-10, then Phoenix.

The abandoned-truck phase gave way in about 2003 to the huge load-out phase. The Copings began seeing SUVs with five to eight illegals sitting on the roof, as Bob says, "like wasted college students," or on the hood, forming a narrow tunnel through which the driver can see.

Some of these illegals have told the Copings they already had jobs lined up in places such as North Carolina, and carried plane tickets out of Sky Harbor in Phoenix.

Cell phones revolutionized the smuggling racket, allowing illegals to call ahead to arrange a pickup in the Ironwood, often eliminating the longer walk to Eloy. Independent walkers are gone now. "Everybody we see now is somebody's customer," says Bob.

The business has become sophisticated, commercial and very dangerous. Cindy, 50, a former engineer at Hughes, used to check fences alone on horseback, but she quit, afraid of what she might encounter. "Sometimes I'll be at the house alone, and 20 illegals will walk down the road," she says. "It's intimidating. They sound like an army marching."

Bob says the number of load-outs in the Ironwood increased last spring before and after demonstrators took to the streets in Tucson and elsewhere to demand a rewrite of American law to accommodate illegal aliens and their corporate partners. The atmosphere, including talk of amnesty, created an explosion in traffic. In April, the Copings counted eight load-outs in one day.

When the National Guard was sent to the border, the free-for-all ended abruptly, if briefly. "We saw helicopters overhead, military-type aircraft, and we didn't a see a load-out for two weeks," Bob says. "The traffic probably dropped 90 percent."

But the numbers have risen again significantly, and in recent e-mails, the Copings have told me the big load-outs have returned with a vengeance. Cindy's e-mails have the tension and immediacy of dispatches written from a war zone--because, in fact, she and Bob live in one.

Last Thursday, three illegals were murdered in the Ironwood. Cindy and Bob learned of the trouble when a male illegal came to their house, his thigh covered in blood, evidently splatter from someone else's wound. In rapid Spanish, he repeated words like, "Pow! Pow!" and "911" and "muerta" and "mujer," while gesturing of blood pouring from someone's chest. Cindy grabbed her medical kit, and she and Bob and this man jumped into a pickup and raced to the scene.

Here is what she wrote next:

"I called 911 and attended to the woman, who was shot in the shoulder with a bullet wound coming out that soft spot at the bottom of her throat. The 911 dispatcher was simultaneously responding to a similar call from the Asarco Silverbell Mine, which is about a 10-mile drive south. As soon as I could see the woman was in stable condition, I crossed the street and assessed the motionless man on the other side.

"I felt no pulse on his still-warm throat. His eyes were closed. I grabbed his wrist, and it was cold. Then I saw the back of his head was shot open. He was gone. There was no bleeding at the scene, so I assume this shooting took place earlier, and these four people were unloaded.

"The woman, Sebastiana, whom I later found out is 24 years old, began shivering in the morning's chill. I found no signs of continued bleeding. Her wound had been hurriedly dressed with someone's cotton coat stuffed up under her shirt. It was a gaping 2-inch-wide gash between the two bullet holes, but it had stopped bleeding. She was alert and breathing, even able to talk. She had a smaller wound to her abdomen. I elevated her feet, and Bob made two trips back to the house for wool blankets to keep her warm.

"A younger (undocumented) woman, Linda, at the scene had blood covering her cheek and circling one eye. She indicated no pain, so this was perhaps someone else's blood. She indicated that something had grazed her face, possibly a bullet. In the dark, it appeared she'd been punched in the eye, but after it got light, I could see it was just dried blood on her face. The first official to arrive on scene was a Pima County deputy who told us that someone had walked into Asarco with four fingers shot off."

The e-mail goes on. It ends with Cindy and Bob retreating to their house and locking the gate, another case of Arizona citizens sealing themselves off from the horrors this invasion has brought to our state.

But heartrending encounters are not unusual in the Ironwood. In November, a man in his mid-50s showed up at the Copings' corrals and said he'd been drinking his urine for four days. Cindy made him macaroni and cheese and watched him gobble it down. As he ate, he broke down in retching sobs.

The man said he owned a small farm with 70 pigs in Colima, Mexico, and had seven sons living in Phoenix. Breaking her rule of not allowing strays to use the phone, Cindy allowed him to call them to pick him up. He waited and waited, but no one in his family came for him.

That night, he slept in the bed of one of the pickups. In the morning, he gave Cindy several necklaces--depicting Jesus, the Virgin of Guadalupe and other images--then left, and Cindy isn't sure in which direction he went. She never called the Border Patrol to pick him up.

"They usually don't come if it's one or two strays," she says. "But mostly I didn't have the heart. I couldn't do it after all he'd been through."

Cindy figures she and Bob have made six such "rescues" over the years. She has no choice. "If I don't help them, they'll die," she says. "We're 75 miles from the border. No one gets here without walking at least three days, and it's another 20-mile walk out."

But living in the Ironwood presents other tough choices.

In 1997, as a precaution, Cindy got shots to immunize her from contact with hepatitis A. At the time, she was working with Pima County Search and Rescue, and that agency recommended that its personnel get immunized for the more worrisome, and potentially fatal, hepatitis B. It is spread through contact with the blood of an infected person, and Cindy has had contact with bleeding Third World people.

She hasn't gotten the second shot yet. "If I were taking the best care of myself, I'd get the B shot, too," says Cindy. "I probably still will."

It's easy to understand her anxiety, and her belief that she is on her own against this invasion--because, in spite of what she calls the dedicated Border Patrol agents on the ground, Cindy knows that the American government has neither the will nor desire to control this border.

The same year she got the shots, a Border Patrol agent told Cindy that while traveling in Guatemala, he walked by a travel agency in Guatemala City and saw in its front window a map showing the 1,800-mile route to the United States--with her little house in the Ironwood as a landmark.

But Cindy just shrugged at that disturbing news. After so many years of living on the Amnesty Trail, she's no longer capable of surprise.