Desert Invasion - U.S.

Articles on the invasion in Organ Pipe National Monument

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  • May Border Incidents Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ
    The Morning Report, National Park Service, documenting incidents in National Parks, June 11, 2004

    May 10: The park's dog team was summoned to the Lukeville port of entry to check on a suspicious vehicle. The dog alerted on its gas tank, which led to the seizure of 56 pounds of marijuana and the driver's arrest.

    May 15: Rangers got a call from the park visitor center, asking that they meet a visitor in the parking lot. The visitor - a police chief from New Hampshire - told them that he'd been showing his family a place where he'd seen trash left behind by illegal aliens near a fee station during a previous visit to the park when his daughter found a backpack containing packages of marijuana hidden under a tree. Rangers seized the 43 pound load; they searched the area, but found no other backpacks.

    May 21: Rangers found evidence that a group of smugglers had passed through the park. A ranger team tracked them for about two miles, then apprehended 10 smugglers and seized the 574 pounds of marijuana they had been packing into the country. The Border Patrol and National Guard assisted. Seven of the ten have been charged with smuggling. Throughout the same day, rangers arrested 33 undocumented aliens [illegal aliens] - most of them within the park's administrative and housing complex.

    May 22: Evidence was found of another group of drug smugglers in the park. Rangers caught six smugglers and arrested them at gunpoint; 22 backpacks with a total of 1,153 pounds of marijuana were seized. All six were charged with smuggling.

    May 29: An attempt to stop a vehicle that had illegally crossed into the U.S. on Highway 85 led to a pursuit as the driver fled towards Mexico. Speeds at times were over 110 mph. Tire deflation devices were placed on the road, which succeeded in stopping the vehicle. A foot pursuit ensued that culminated with the arrest of the driver and eight illegal aliens. The driver will be charged with felony alien smuggling.

    May 30: Another vehicle suspected of illegally entering the county was pursued, but the driver made it back to Mexico before rangers could catch him. Three hours later, he tried again and this time was caught. Seven were arrested. The driver will be charged with felony alien smuggling.

    May 29-31: Over the Memorial day weekend, rangers provided EMS to a number of accident victims from Mexico at the Lukeville port of entry, including nine victims of a rollover accident.

    [Submitted by Fred Patton, Chief Ranger]

  • 118 illegal crossers held in Organ Pipe
    Arizona Daily Star, AZ, May 5, 2004

    Border Patrol agents caught a group of 118 illegal border crossers in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument shortly after midnight Tuesday...

    People in the group told agents that smugglers had brought them through Sonoyta, Sonora, at the westernmost edge of Pima County and that they were headed to Phoenix and Los Angeles...

    In the second incident, bleached, skeletal human remains were found Sunday south of the Tohono O'odham village of Gunsight.

  • Border Patrol could get more public lands access
    By Mitch Tobin, Tucson Citizen, AZ, March 19, 2004

    ...according to the National Park Service, Border Patrol plans for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument include:
    Unlimited cross-country access for motorcycles throughout the monument.
    Four new east/west roads and two backcountry camps in wilderness areas.
    Patrols in wilderness by horseback and use of ATVs on illegal roads created by smugglers and border crossers.
    A gravel road the length of Organ Pipe's 30-mile border with Mexico and a dirt road beside it so agents can track people and vehicles.
    About 10 surveillance towers, 80 to 100 feet high.
    It is typically illegal to have roads, vehicles and permanent camps in federal wilderness, which covers 95 percent of the 330,689-acre monument, about 100 miles southwest of Tucson. The 1964 Wilderness Act does allow for exceptions.

  • Beauty, danger converge in desert - Desert hot spot
    By Bob Marshall, New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 10, 2004

    WHY, ARIZ. -- Sunset at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was a Kodak moment... rangers had sprung a trap on 21 of those human shadows, all of whom turned out to be illegals trying to reach economic safety in the United States. Thirteen were caught, eight escaped back into the shadows.

    "A pretty typical night around here," said Fred Patton, chief ranger at Organ Pipe...

    The land set aside to indulge the recreational and environmental sentiments of the planet's wealthiest nation has also become a last-chance backdoor for destitute millions from one of the world's poorest countries literally dying to crash the party. It as also become a back alley for armed and violent drug smugglers.

    As many as 400,000 of the illegals try to cross the park each year. Most of them succeed. Some of them die. All of them are leaving an impact that will scar this land for generations. They are the main characters in a sad, sometimes violent drama that plays 365 nights a year -- yet is seldom noticed by the 200,000 legal visitors who see the park each year, mostly by day.

    First-timers through the park gates just south of Why experience an almost palpable visual shock, their eyes rocked by shapes and scenes crafted in one of nature's finest special-effects studios.

    "...we estimate between 200,000 and 400,000 [illegals] a year try to come through this park."... "We've now got 300 miles of illegal roads these people have cut through the desert, and thousands of miles of illegal trails they've created," Patton said. "We collect over 30 vehicles a year, and we measure the trash they leave behind -- everything from cans and bottles to clothes -- by the ton. And they've fouled the few water sources to the point they are too filthy now even for animals to drink."

  • Arizona national park threatened by illegal immigration
    EFE News, January 22, 2004

    Tucson, Arizona, Jan 21 (EFE).-Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, just north of the Mexican border, is on the short list for possible "decommissioning," a status some blame on massive illegal immigration.

    The scores of plastic bags, water bottles, empty food cans, old shoes, clothes and toothbrushes discarded by the migrants, besides being an eyesore, are threatening the park's ecosystem, according to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), which placed Organ Pipe on its list of 10 most endangered national parks.

    "The monument shares a 30-mile border with Mexico that has become an entryway into the United States for thousands of undocumented immigrants," said Ron Tipton, the NPCA's senior vice president of programs...

    "This park is under siege and must get immediate attention or we run the risk of losing forever the resources that earned this national treasure a world-class designation as a biosphere reserve," [Ron Tipton, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)] added.

  • Organ Pipe 'under siege' due to crime - Ranks in top 10 of endangered national parks
    By Mitch Tobin, Arizona Daily Star, January 14, 2004

    ..Organ Pipe borders Mexico for 30 miles, with that nation's busy Highway 2 often visible from the flimsy border fence.

    Arizona 85 - the road Tucsonans take to Rocky Point - runs through the park and has become a prime route for narcotics and illegal migrants heading north. High-speed chases occur regularly. Some end when rangers - armed with military-style AR-15 assault rifles - deploy spikes to flatten the tires of vehicles fleeing back to Mexico...

    Park officials say border crossers spook endangered species, dump tons of trash in the wilderness and have blazed 250 miles of roads through the park in the past four years...

    In 2002, park rangers made 100 felony arrests and seized 14,000 pounds of pot. Those figures declined last year, Patton said, but only because the park was focusing more on training an influx of new rangers.

    The quadrupling of law enforcement staffers at Organ Pipe followed Eggle's Aug. 9, 2002, murder...Eggle was pursuing a Mexican national who had driven through a border fence just east of Lukeville. Authorities say Eggle's killer, who was later shot by Mexican agents firing from their side of the border, had been involved in a drug-related quadruple homicide.

    Eggle's death also spurred the Park Service to approve a low-slung vehicle barrier along the border with Mexico - a measure the park had sought for years. The $17 million project is expected to be complete in 2005...

    But, Kendrick [Randall Kendrick, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police's U.S. Park Rangers Lodge] said, the vehicle barrier may simply push illegal traffic onto neighboring Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, which has hardly any law enforcement resources.

    Drug smugglers have used Organ Pipe for decades, but the flow of migrants there has jumped since 1998, when the Border Patrol began stepping up enforcement in nearby border cities, said agency spokesman Andy Adame.

    For some reason, and with deadly consequences, migrant traffic in Organ Pipe peaks in summer, when the area has some of the continent's hottest weather. The Border Patrol, which quadrupled the number of agents in its Tucson sector since 1998, will have an increased presence at Organ Pipe this summer, Adame said...

  • Organ Pipe barrier expected to keep drugs, entrants out
    By Michael Marizco, Arizona Daily Star, November 30, 2003

    A new $17 million vehicle barrier at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument promises to help keep out loads of illegal drugs and immigrants along one of the U.S. border's most popular smuggling routes.

    The barrier, old railroad rails buried five feet deep and welded into a ribbon of steel, will do nothing to stop foot traffic and is designed only to deter cars and trucks and the damage they do when they tear across protected plants and carve rutted paths in fragile desert soil...

    U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is considering lining much of the roughly 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border with the so-called "smart border" barriers. The agency has not decided who should pay for it, said spokesman Mario Villarreal in Washington, D.C.

    The National Park Service isn't waiting. The agency came up with the money for its Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, at $700,000 per mile of barrier, after ranger Kris Eggle was shot to death there in August 2002 by a drug smuggler running from Mexican agents.

    The barrier, slated for construction in December, will help protect the 516-square-mile monument's organ pipe cactus, saguaros, bighorn sheep and desert tortoise, which are suffering as smugglers race through, said Bill Wellman, a monument supervisor. The park service also installed the vehicle barriers at Coronado National Memorial in Southeastern Arizona and will finish that project in the next two weeks.

    Sometimes, the smugglers' vehicles break down or catch fire and are abandoned - 3,994 of them on the Tohono O'odham Nation and 34 in Organ Pipe in 2002. This year, 2,882 vehicles were dumped on the reservation and five at Organ Pipe.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, set aside $2 million this year for a barrier and will add another $5 million each year for the next four years. "By putting that in, we basically bankrupt construction projects for the rest of the U.S. with national wildlife refuges," Lusk said.

  • Lou Dobbs special report
    Lou Dobbs, CNN, November 19, 2003

    Tonight our special report "broken borders." The 10 million illegal aliens in this country are not only breaking our laws and enjoying benefits of citizenships, such as healthcare and education now illegal alien smugglers and drug traffickers are on the verge of ruining some of our national treasures. Oregon Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona is one of the country's most beautiful national park. It is also consistently rated the nation's most dangerous national park. The reason, illegal aliens and drug smugglers have made it a key smuggling route into this country.

  • Homeland Insecurity: The Saftey Status of Organ Pipe Cactus National Park Today
    By Marthe Dare, the Sierra Times, September 12, 2003

    Cadillac Michigan -It will never go away-the lingering pain that Bonnie Eggle feels for the loss of her only son Kris [Organ Pipe National Monument Park Ranger Kris Eggle Killed Aug 9, 2002]. Fresh in her mind is the thought that her son's death did not have to happen, and should not have happened. If only, she daily laments, America's borders had been secure.

    Actions have been taken to commemorate her son, Kris Eggle a park ranger at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Kris was shot to death trying to protect the park after he heard foreign nationals fleeing Mexico had barreled through a huge, gaping hole in the international fence in a SUV. At that time a handful of rangers had the Herculean task of patrolling more than 30 miles of border...

    Bonnie declares, "This murderer was a hired assassin for a drug cartel in Sonoyta who had already been involved in quadruple murders the evening before." She pleads for United States citizens to drop the "politically correct" notion that just innocent farm laborers are sneaking across the border...

    Regarding the endless trek of illegal border crossers on foot, Thompson estimates there are, "At least 400 to 500 undocumented [illegal] aliens that cross into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Park from Mexico every day. He mentions that while patrolling during the evening rangers used night vision goggles that worked off of ambient starlight. "We would see as many as 150 illegal aliens coming across in a group at one time."...

    Patton adds, "Post 911, all of us are concerned about the integrity of our borders and the access of people that would care to do us harm. The Department of Homeland Security is in charge with the primary responsibility of protecting the park. On a day to day basis, we are concerned about the borders. Ours is protecting the resources of the park that are destroyed by countless illegal alien crossings and drug trafficking, as well." The Sonoran Pronghorn antelope, an endangered species, has had its feeding and breeding grounds significantly reduced because of all of the human activity. Trash is everywhere. Some of the springs along the migrant route show high levels of fecal coliform. One pair of tiny cactus pigmy owls--of which only 4 pairs exist in the park-did not nest after increased human traffic. Ocotillo shrubs and saguaro cactus have been mowed down by foot trails and car tracks...

    Bonnie urges Americans to ask Congress why it does not relieve tax paying US citizens of the burden of providing hospital care for illegal aliens when many US citizens do not have health coverage. Some members of Congress are trying to make illegal aliens eligible for in-state tuition rates at publicly funded colleges and universities.

  • Cross-border traffic ravages desert park - Drug runners, migrants blamed
    By Hugh Dellios, Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent, August 19, 2003

    ORGAN PIPE CACTUS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Ariz. -- For a tract of desert wilderness that is supposed to be left alone by humans, this national park is a mess. Fragile ocotillo shrubs and saguaro cactuses lay lifeless where they were mowed down. Foot trails and car tracks scar the delicate sandy ground in all directions. Trash is everywhere.

    The problem is not neglect by the National Park Service. The park has been overrun by illegal immigrants and drug traffickers who use its remote valleys to elude and outrun the U.S. Border Patrol on their clandestine journeys from Mexico.

    Designated a national treasure by Congress in 1937 because of its unique cactus habitat, the park was placed off limits to all but backcountry hikers in 1978. But now biologists are struggling to maintain it, while National Park Service rangers have labeled it the "most dangerous" national park...

    The problem isn't limited to the 300,000-acre Organ Pipe preserve. Five parks lie along Arizona's border, including Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and the Coronado National Memorial.

    A study last year found that 5,000 vehicles had ground their way through border wilderness areas in 2001. The names of Mexican villages had been carved into centuries-old saguaro cactuses, and archeological sites had been ruined along trails used by American Indians carting salt from the Sea of Cortez for thousands of years.

    Across the border, in Mexico's El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, Mexican soldiers destroyed a 10,000-year-old archeological site after mistaking it for an illicit landing strip for drug traffickers' airplanes...

    Park officials say it could take 40 to 50 years to erase the visible damage to the terrain.

  • Trouble in Paradise - Are America's National Parks Becoming a Haven for Criminals?
    ABC News, July 25, 2003

    "Just about any type of crime that goes on in any urban environment happens out here," said Dale Antonich, chief ranger at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, located in Nevada and Arizona.

    "We've had rapes, we've had murders in the park, we've had bodies dumped in the park," Antonich said...

    The rangers at Organ Pipe wear camouflage and bulletproof vests, and carry assault rifles... Rangers estimate that nearly 250,000 people came through the park illegally just last year.

    Wirth gave 20/20 a look at surveillance photos showing illegal immigrants on the move. "If you could pick out the 10 al Qaeda cell members in that group - what you need to realize is this is just one small incident happening in one isolated area on a single night. This is literally happening hundreds of times across the border every night," Wirth said.

  • Porous U.S. Border A 'War Zone'
    CBS Evening News May 26, 2003

    ORGAN PIPE CACTUS NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. - When it comes to securing our national borders in problem areas like Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Park along the Mexican border, nobody has a more profound interest than Robert Eggle.

    "It's a national problem that we have to deal with now," he says.

    Eggle was invited to come along with a congressional delegation investigating border security at the national park, on the Mexican border.

    His son, Kris, was a park ranger, gunned down last year by a fugitive fleeing Mexico -- a tragic testimonial to how porous the borders remain.

    Please take the time to watch the video, on the lower right portion of the page, under Multimedia.

  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (AZ) Rangers Assist in Fatal Shooting Incident
    by Susan Morton, Special Agent, and Robert E. Stinson, Acting Chief Ranger, National Park Service, The Morning Report, February 18, 2003

    "On February 13, rangers responded to a shooting at the Lukeville port of entry. A man attempted to enter the country from Mexico; during the inspection process, he assaulted and began struggling with a Customs inspector. When the man began driving off, dragging the inspector, the inspector shot him."

  • Border Shutdown
    By Bruce Barcott, Outside Magazine, February, 2003

    "America's park rangers are outnumbered and outgunned. So why won't congress pay more to keep them safe?

    Consider Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a 330,690-acre swath of beautiful, heat-blasted Sonoran Desert 100 miles south of Tucson, Arizona. There, every morning, six rangers are assigned to safeguard an area twice the size of greater New York, in a hopeless attempt to secure 30 miles of the Mexican border. Armed only with service revolvers when patrolling on foot, they face a yearly onslaught of 300,000 illegal immigrants and drug smugglers equipped with automatic weapons, night-vision goggles, and 4x4 SUVs.

    'The Park Service keeps better track of popcorn sales from its concessionaires than it does of hazards to its own workforce.'"

  • Still tense at Organ Pipe
    By Luke Turf, Tucson Citizen, February 7, 2003

    "Six months after the slaying of ranger Kris Eggle, the monument is receiving more resources and attention. But the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants has not abated. Says one ranger: 'We're just keeping our heads above water.'...

    [Park ranger Julie] Horne says she encounters "hundreds" of illegal immigrants every night and several drug loads each week while she works to protect the monument from degradation caused by illegal traffic... Horne, speaking as an individual and not a ranger, said she thinks the U.S. -Mexico border needs to be militarized, with guard towers posted every 25 yards. 'We're out there protecting a lot of other countries' borders. We should secure ours first.'"

  • The Law Loses Out at U.S. Parks - Rangers say they aren't equipped to cope with illegal immigrants, armed smugglers.
    By Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2003

    "Organ Pipe is widely regarded as the most dangerous, used daily by illegal immigrants and heavily armed drug smugglers who have cut hundreds of paths and roads in the remote back country and have left behind tons of litter.

    The park rangers 'are not trained, they are not staffed, they are not equipped for the mission,' said Doug Scott, the [Interior Department] agency's assistant inspector general. 'There are carjackings, robberies, sexual assaults, confrontations with drug runners.' 'The slow pace of law enforcement reform is putting park rangers, Interior police and park visitors at risk,' [senator Charles E. Grassley] said.

    'We have caught people from China, Pakistan and Yemen coming through,' [Bo Stone, an Organ Pipe ranger] said. 'If 1,000 illegal immigrants can walk through the desert here, so can 1,000 terrorists.'"

  • The Death of a Ranger Shows Venerable Job's New Hazards
    By John J. Fialka, The Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2003

    "At Organ Pipe... 'This park comes alive after dark,' explains Bo Jones, a 35-year-old ranger, as he bounces down a rutted desert road in a truck containing the tools of his trade -- including body armor and a semiautomatic rifle.

    Mr. Jones says that the expanding presence of U.S. border patrolmen near traditional border-crossing points has pushed more illegal aliens, and more crime, into this remote, 517-square-mile park. Here, the 30 miles of border are marked by a rusty, three-strand barbed-wire fence -- except in places where it is washed out or where smugglers have simply driven through it. At the time of Mr. Eggle's death, there were just three rangers assigned to guard it. After his murder, Washington raised the complement to 12 rangers and agreed to mark the border with a six-foot wall made out of railroad ties and steel posts sunk in concrete.

    On any given night, Mr. Jones estimates, as many as a thousand illegal aliens are moving north... At the same time... there may be a ton of marijuana being lugged north in 50-pound loads by husky backpackers. They sleep by day and move at night, guided by lookouts posted on mountains with solar-powered phones to warn them of approaching agents. "

  • Arizona Park "Most Dangerous" in U.S.
    Tom Clynes for National Geographic News, January 13, 2003

    "The park rangers at Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument wear camouflage, carry assault rifles, and chase drug smugglers through the blazing desert. They're at the front lines of a violent border war - and they're losing.

    In August, a park ranger, 28-year-old Kris Eggle, was killed while helping Border Patrol agents catch two men suspected by Mexican officials in a drug-related quadruple murder.

    Meanwhile, a highly critical Interior Department report says that the department's law enforcement program is in disarray, and that the Park Service suffers from extreme organizational dysfunction...

    On any given night, rangers estimate, up to 1,000 people are inside the park. Nearly all of them have entered illegally... Last year, Organ Pipe rangers seized some 13,000 pounds... of marijuana, one-third of the total seized in all national parks and monuments combined.

    'Our budget isn't considered part of homeland defense, so it wasn't a priority,' Thompson [Organ Pipes former chief ranger, Dale Thompson] said, as he drove past the 20-foot (6-meter) hole in the border fence that Eggle's killer drove through. 'But how long will it be until someone figures out that you could easily drive a semi-truck with a nuclear device through here?'"

    (See online Kris Eggle memorial).

  • Park rangers being called upon to patrol criminals and critters By ROBERT GEHRKE, Associated Press Writer, Monday, December 30, 2002

    "A series of attacks on rangers, including the fatal shooting in August of a ranger at Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and a scathing report on problems in the Interior Department's law enforcement structure have officials looking at changes aimed at protecting rangers and park visitors.

    Today's rangers are armed, in some cases with M-16s. But they remain spread thin, with fewer than 1,400 patrolling 84 million acres in 387 parks, monuments and historic sites that attract more than 400 million visitors annually."

  • Park Service planning steel barriers at border
    By Tim Steller, Arizona Daily Star, December 8, 2002

    The National Park Service is proposing to build a vehicle barrier along the Arizona-Mexico border in an area where a ranger was killed in August... A similar barrier would be built along the southern edge of Coronado National Memorial.

    Randall Kendrick, the executive director of the U.S. Park Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the proposal is good but late. "It should have been done years ago."

  • ! Parks Under Siege
    Associated Press, December 3, 2002
    By Tim Vanderpool, National Parks Magazine, November/December 2002

    "Nowhere is the situation more pressing than in Organ Pipe Cactus, spanning 30 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border, where rugged bluffs and gentle slopes have become a war zone known for both drug and people smuggling."

    "Organ Pipe Cactus Superintendent Bill Wellman calls it a looming catastrophe. 'We've lost most of our wilderness characteristics already, and within the last two years, we've started hearing comments from visitors about resource damage,' he says. 'If the situation doesn't improve, I would suspect that within ten years we'll reach a state of impairment by anybody's definition.'"

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