With me that morning was an independent photo journalist from Texas; we’ll call him Mike. Also along with our patrol was an independent video journalist, Caesar from Texas. The two had been with us on many patrols and have documented hours of our operations and numerous encounters with illegal invaders. That morning they finally had the opportunity to see what we had told them about, they got their “money shot”, what they had been waiting for: drug dealers, illegals and a run-in with the legendary rogue para-military groups that “patrol” the Mexican side of the border.
I asked the two if they wanted to move in closer; they were of course eager to get as close as possible. I’m sure they were not exactly prepared for what happened next.
We loaded into my truck and drove to within a couple hundred yards of the line; I parked the truck behind some trees and thick brush wanting to move in as quietly as possible.
I took the two journalists through the brush, parallel to the border fence and came up through a wash in a low area that was hidden by a dirt berm. We kneeled behind the berm and peered over the top for a perfect view of the ranch. We were as close as we could get - right on the fence.
Just as I peered over the top of the berm, I heard rustling in the wash to my right. Suddenly three armed men appeared from the brush. They moved quickly to the fence. One slung his rifle over his shoulder and leaned over to put a leg through the fence. We were no more than 25 feet away. As the young man leaned over he turned his head and looked right along the fence and right into my eyes.
With haste the three men moved away from the fence and back into the thicket of mesquite and tall grass, shouting to others as they noisily retreated back towards the ranch. My attention was then drawn to an area only a few feet away directly in front of me. It was apparent there was another squad of three men; they also immediately retreated back up the hill. Six men emerged from the back sight line of the thicket and all ran the 300 yards back to the vehicles.
We could see the men run to what was apparently the leader of the squad where they conversed for a few seconds. A moment later 10 of the men jumped into one of the troop transport vehicles and drove down the hill in our direction. They stopped directly in front of us on the dirt road that parallels the border fence on the Mexican side.
Four men with rifles, M-16’s and FAL’s, jumped from the truck and approached us on the fence. The cameras were rolling - on both sides. As the
The leader approached, I said, “Hola, como estas; buenos dias.” He asked immediately if we were immigration. I told him no. He then told us in Spanish it was prohibited for us to film them. We told him we were media and we had the right to film. He became a bit agitated at that point and asked for more specifics about who we were and why we were here. I asked him the same question. He told us they were out here protecting the border - just doing their job. We asked if they were military, they did not respond. The leader seemed perplexed about who we were and again asked what business we had in the area. We again replied we were journalists covering the illegal immigration story. The leader again said we should not be in this area.
Two of the men standing next to the leader kept their weapons in the ready position; the other had his rifle slung over his shoulder. The leader again firmly asked us to stop filming. Caesar and I continued to film with video cameras; Mike obeyed and lowered his 35 millimeter with zoom lens. The leader told us we were “annoying and bothering his group.” He said we should leave the area. We did not reply.
Moments later a pickup truck with the back cargo area covered came down the road from Naco towards the ranch on the Mexico side. The vehicle first slowed when the driver spotted us, then sped away towards the ranch. As the driver passed the soldiers he waved and continued past the ranch and drove behind it.
Both troop vehicles immediately loaded up and followed the truck on the road behind the ranch and out of view of our cameras.
The leader told us they were patrolling the border, yet just a few buildings away about half-a-dozen plain clothed civilians were milling around a small adobe house tucked in the middle of the multi-building compound. The house has been in use for years as the drop off, staging area for groups of people who enter the United States illegally using the San Pedro River Valley as their guide north.
Starting three hours after the face- to- face encounter with the armed squad of men, CHD volunteers assisted Border Patrol with locating a group of nine illegal entrants a half mile north of the Mexican ranch. Two hours later another group of 10 illegals was rounded up by Border Patrol after being tracked by CHD volunteers.
As of noon on Wednesday over 500 people have been documented coming through the same area. Most used the ranch as their staging point.
The men dressed in olive drab uniforms are still there too.