Monday, November 21, 2005

JACUMBA, Calif. — Among the thousands of women who will illegally cross into the United States this year from Mexico, some will be raped by the same men who demanded $1,500 to $2,000 for safe passage — their underpants often hung on a border fence as a trophy.

“I thought the wailings we heard at night were the coyotes barking at the moon,” said Tim Donnelly, who headed the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps border vigil here. “I didn’t know until later that those sounds were the cries of women being raped in the Mexican desert, some less than a hundred yards away from the border.

“There was absolutely nothing anyone could do about it,” said Mr. Donnelly, grimacing as he turned away to hide his emotions. “It’s something you never forget.”

The women, according to U.S. law-enforcement authorities, have no realistic recourse, because they are foreigners seeking to enter the United States illegally. Separated from other illegals just south of the border, the smugglers take them into the desert where they are raped or sodomized.

U.S. authorities said some Mexican border police have taken part in the violence, often targeting migrants headed to the United States from Central and South America.

The rapes are part of what the U.S. Border Patrol said is a growing pattern of violence on the U.S.-Mexico border from California to Texas, including a rising number of assaults and robberies of illegals and a dramatic increase in attacks on Border Patrol agents and other law-enforcement personnel along the 1,940-mile border.

The incidents of violence and the intensity of the attacks, the authorities said, continue despite an ongoing and expensive effort by the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the September 11 attacks to gain “operational control” of the border.

Alien and drug smugglers — many armed with automatic weapons, global-positioning units and night-vision scopes — have become increasingly aggressive in protecting their illicit cargoes, the authorities said, adding that attacks on Border Patrol agents have risen fivefold in the past year.

The State Department issued a warning earlier this year to Americans traveling into the northern border regions of Mexico, saying they should be “aware of the risk posed by the deteriorating security situation,” including killings, kidnappings and sexual assaults.

The National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), which represents the agency’s 10,000 nonsupervisory personnel, has blamed the increased violence, in part, on Homeland Security’s “restrictive enforcement policies,” saying border agents often are prohibited from actively pursuing those involved.

NBPC President T.J. Bonner, a 27-year Border Patrol veteran, said the enforcement policies have emboldened alien and drug smugglers to become more aggressive in challenging competitors, protecting themselves from detection and arrest and attacking illegal aliens.

But for Mr. Donnelly, a 38-year-old plastics salesman from Twin Peaks, Calif., who is married to a Hispanic woman and has five children, the violence is intolerable. He said the migrants who “cross every day into the United States through this rugged and dangerous terrain are the victims.”

“They’ve been abused and abandoned by their own government. How can we not be outraged and ashamed that we allow these people to risk their lives — and sometimes die — in search of a better life?” he said. “What in the world is going on in our country that we will allow this to continue?”

More than 200 civilian volunteers signed up for the California vigil, standing watch along a rugged and isolated section of the U.S.-Mexico border about 70 miles east of San Diego. The monthlong event in October was part of the Minutemen’s “Secure Our Borders” initiative, with volunteers in Vermont, New York, Washington state, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

“The Minutemen are not vigilantes or racists, just Americans asking that the law be enforced, that our borders be protected against drug dealers, alien smugglers and terrorists,” Mr. Donnelly said.

His involvement with the Minutemen began in April in Arizona, but Mr. Donnelly said he considered “long and hard” whether to take part in the border watches, worrying about whether President Bush’s label of “vigilantes” was correct and whether those who signed up were racists and troublemakers.

He said he wanted no part of a group that would stand against migrants and human rights, adding that he carefully watched as the April vigil unfolded, listened intently to those who had organized the event, stood watches on the border and talked with “everyone I could about why they had come to Arizona.”

In September, he accepted the job as head of the Minuteman operation in California.

“In the sea of exploited humanity that moves across our open borders every day in pursuit of a false promise, all sorts of ugly things can and do happen,” he said. “I just don’t want them to happen on my watch.”

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