Desert Invasion - U.S.


Johnny Petrello displays of what illegals leave mark pick-up spots

By Dana Cole, Sierra Vista Herald/Review, June 12, 2005

WHETSTONE - Driving through Cochise County, chances are you've noticed Johnny Petrello's "High Desert Living Art."

The displays - intended to portray a reflection of the times - aren't something you find in exclusive galleries or studios....

He drapes select findings on barbed-wire fences along main roads - creating an eclectic collection of jackets, shirts, backpacks, hats and water bottles - to draw attention to the trash left by illegal immigrants as they make their trek through the county.

"This is a nonstop project for me," Petrello said, stepping back to admire his latest creation. "I'll clean up areas, bag the garbage and haul it to the dump. I set aside some articles for my art projects, but they eventually go to the dump, too."

But in less than a week, Petrello claims that same area will be covered with trash again.

Petrello's artistic expressions are carefully arranged and clearly visible from main roads, all strategically placed in locations that are known as coyote pick-up and drop-off points, or areas where there is a high volume of illegal traffic.

"It irritates the heck out of the coyotes," Petrello said as he scanned an approaching car through his binoculars. "They know my art alerts the Border Patrol, and they don't like it."

There are times when Petrello's displays are destroyed by coyotes right after he leaves an area. The coyotes, he claims, watch him through binoculars, just as is on the lookout for him. Petrello has familiarized himself with what kinds of vehicles they drive and what they look like.

Wearing a T-shirt with "Proud to be a Vigilante" in bold red, carrying a hand-held radio and packing a gun, Petrello said decorating fences is something he plans to keep doing.

"As long as we have this illegal trafficking, this is my way of calling the public's attention to the problem," he said. "People driving down the highway have no idea this is happening within a few hundred feet away, so I'm bringing the problem to them."

Petrello's clean-up campaign allows him to take what he views as a proactive stance against against a serious environmental issue.

Raised in this area, Petrello spends a lot of time outdoors and loves the desert. He takes his children for walks in the desert, and he says they are constantly dismayed by the volumes of trash they find.

"It's not only an eyesore, but it's an environmental hazard, one that shows complete disrespect for this country," he said. "I'm teaching my children to respect nature and the desert, and I hope they learn something positive from this."

While the Minuteman Project was in full force in Cochise County, Petrello joined the group, helping with its border-watch effort. During the monthlong project, he met people from all over the country who expressed an interest in his desert clean-up mission. Many have returned to the area to lend Petrello a hand, some even contributing to the artistic displays....

On this day, there is one other person helping with the garbage project, a woman named Kathy Porter.

"We've collected about 20 bags of trash so far today," she said. "It's very disappointing to see this happening to our country. I feel sorry for the ranchers who have to deal with this on a constant basis."...

"We have a lot of local support, but I have people who come from Massachusetts, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas and New Mexico," he said. "This is something all of us believe in doing, and we'll continue this project as long as we have broken borders."

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