Sneak Eaters

Neighbors Complain That A Country Snack Bar Caters to Illegal Aliens.

APRIL BROWN AND her husband couldn't help but notice their neighbor's daily routine over the last several years.

Brown's neighbor gets visitors. Hundreds of visitors.

The visitors usually arrive just after sunrise in oversized vans with dark tinted glass. The vans, and other cars and trucks, are usually overloaded. Sometimes as many as 23 people squeeze into a single van.

The vehicles somehow find their way to a little snack shop located several blocks off unpaved Redington Road on the backside of the Rincon Mountains, which border Tucson's east side. The snack shop sits just north of the Pinal-Pima county line.

Just before dusk the vehicles reload, turn onto Redington headed north, and take off for destinations unknown.

Locals report that on some days it is not unusual to see 100 or even 200 people milling around the neighbor's snack shop and house.

"There are so many people, there is not room enough for them on this woman's property, so they camp on our property and on my neighbors' property along the San Pedro," said Brown.

Neighbors complain that the area around the house and snack shop is contaminated with garbage and human feces. Brown's neighbor Judy Dykes told the Weekly her biggest concern was feces contamination of the San Pedro River.

On Good Friday of this year, Brown says, she and her husband observed about 300 people milling around the neighbor's house.

Fed up with the speeding vehicles, trash, and people camping on her property, Brown called the Border Patrol.

The Border Patrol didn't raid the place, but three days after Brown's complaint traffic seemed absent from the neighbor's house.

"For the next week or two, no one was there. Then things picked up again," said Brown. "I can't help but believe there's a leak somewhere in the Border Patrol."

The modest country house and snack shop in question are owned by Tucson resident Martha Guerrero.

Guerrero told the Weekly she is simply running a little outdoor snack shop that over the last few years has become somewhat popular with travelers.

"All I do is sell food. I don't hurt or harbor people," she said.

The main fare sold from Guerrero's 10-by-16-foot shack is hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, sodas and snow cones. But neighbors with unimpaired views of Guerrero's snack shop told the Weekly that Guerrero also buys used tires by the truckload and daily fills two 55-gallon drums with gasoline in nearby San Manuel for resale at premium prices at the snack bar. The neighbors say many customers buy gas in 5-gallon cans.

The 49-year-old Guerrero admitted she occasionally sells used tires and gasoline to travelers in need, but denied any involvement with her customers.

Guerrero maintained she isn't doing anything illegal. "I know I'm within my rights," she said. "I have a vender's license. That's all I do--I sell things. I'm no different than Circle K. I don't put people up. And I don't (hire) these people.

"I can't help it if some of these people get stranded. They have nowhere to go, so I allow them to wait for their ride. Is that against the law?" Guerrero asked. "Besides, I don't control these people."

Guerrero disputed her neighbor's claim that she had about 300 hundred people on her property during the Easter holiday.

"Maybe we had a hundred," she admitted. "But, if it wasn't for my place being here, things would be a lot worse for my neighbors. These people would be coming through (the San Pedro Valley) hungry and thirsty. They would be desperate. Have you ever seen what a desperate person could do? I give them food and water. I sell them tires. And if they need it, I even give them first aid."

Guerrero stressed that she understands the concerns of her neighbors.

"People have stolen from me," said the scrappy shop owner. "They've taken tires off the work truck, parts from the car, clothes off the clothesline, and broken into the store.

"I know my neighbors complain about people driving at high speeds up and down Redington Road, but I can't control that."

Guerrero told the Weekly that about 30 percent of the people patronizing her snack shop are Central Americans. "I call them the little people. They are very nice people. These people need to leave their countries. Their governments are killing them.

"I've also seen Chinese and Hindus and white people speaking a language I couldn't understand."

Several years ago, plainclothes investigators from the Immigration and Naturalization Service visited the snack shop, said Guerrero. "They talked to us, looked around and left."

Guerrero said the agents stopped in after she called Bill King at the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General to complain about the Border Patrol parking in front of her store all day. "They were harassing me, and I picked up the phone and called King," said Guerrero.

King explained that the agents were just responding to complaints from her neighbors, and the patrol cars disappeared.

Then, said Guerrero, about three years ago, uniformed agents of the Border Patrol searched her house and trailer. "My ex-husband let them in even though they didn't have a warrant. They wanted to see if we were putting people up. We don't put people up. So, nothing happened. The two Border Patrol agents bought some pop and told us we were not doing anything wrong."

Wrong or not, for April Brown and her neighbors, the quiet country life they once had is a thing of the past. What they allege to be Guerrero's illegal-alien staging house continues to operate. And the vehicles continue to roar down Redington Road.

On August 19, Cascabell resident Maria Troutner called her friends and neighbors to a town hall meeting to try to find some solutions. Southern Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe and three Border Patrol agents showed up to find an SRO crowd of 60 people at the Cascabell Community Center.

Ron Vietello, the new community relations officer for the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, offered several reasons nothing has been done to close the alleged drop house. He even suggested that unbeknownst to the audience a "big investigation" of the drop house could be underway. Several people in the audience began to shake their heads.

Afterwards, some people concerned about the alleged drop house said they thought the meeting helped to get the problem into the open. But another person said she thought the "Border Patrol was lying to us."

"Nothing's changed," she said, as she walked outside the meeting hall. "I think it's possible the Border Patrol is in on this thing."

Since the August 19 Cascabell meeting, agents from the Border Patrol's Willcox station have taken down 16 load vehicles just North of Pomerene on Redington Road, netting 318 passengers to be prosecuted. Six drivers are being held for prosecution, although eight others were able to flee, according to Jeff Calhoun, the agent in charge of the Willcox station.

Meanwhile, local residents have estimated that 16 to 20 load vehicles pass through their community every day.

Vietello told the Weekly that the Border Patrol will continue to use all of its resources to contain the flow of illegals through the Douglas and Naco corridors. Meanwhile, the flow of illegals through Cascabell can be addressed only as resources permit, he said.

Barbara Crawford and others living along the San Pedro are getting restless. For them, waiting for the issue to be "addressed as resources permit" may not be good enough.

At the town hall meeting, Crawford drew a sustained round of applause when she suggested to her neighbors that since Redington Road is a private and not a county road, the locals should think about putting up their own roadblock and checkpoint.

"Then maybe we'll get their attention," said Crawford. "Then maybe (the Border Patrol) will know we're serious."