By Marc Lacey
The New York Times
HEREFORD, Ariz. — No migrant would have dared cross from Mexico into this particular stretch of Arizona on Sunday.
Hundreds of Tea Party activists converged on the border fence here in what is typically a desolate area popular with traffickers to rally for conservative political candidates and to denounce what they called lax federal enforcement of immigration laws. The rally brought a significant law enforcement presence as well as numerous private patrols by advocates of a more secure border.
But rallies, even daylong ones, are no way to seal the border. The Obama administration insists that its statistics show that significant financing increases in the federal Border Patrol have helped bring down crime at the border and make the smuggling of immigrants and drugs harder than ever.
But the activists who gathered Sunday had a decidedly different take. The border, in their view, is still far too easy to get across and has become so dangerous that some of them brought their sidearms for protection. Organizers urged participants to leave rifles in their cars.
“Instead of finding bugs in our beds, we’re finding home invaders,” said Tony Venuti, a Tucson radio host who attached a huge sign to the fence that told immigrants to head to Los Angeles, where they will be more welcome, and even offered directions for getting there.
Addressing the crowd, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who conducts controversial sweeps in immigrant neighborhoods in Phoenix and other parts of Maricopa County, said the problem could be solved if the Border Patrol was given permission to track down migrants on the Mexican side before they crossed.
“If I had all the national TV here, I’d probably climb the fence to show you how easy it is,” Sheriff Arpaio said from the rally’s stage, a flag with the words “Don’t Tread on Me” flapping behind him.
Also among the speakers was Russell Pearce, the state senator who sponsored Arizona’s controversial immigration law known as 1070, part of which was blocked by a federal judge last month.
The event was monitored on the Mexican side. A rally participant spotted a group of people in the rugged terrain in Mexico and alerted Border Patrol officers, who identified them with binoculars as members of Grupo Beta, a Mexican agency that aids migrants in distress.
Sheriff Larry A. Dever of Cochise County, where the event was held, said the area was a hotspot for traffickers.
“We’re right at the point of the spear where human and dope smuggling takes place,” Sheriff Dever said. “These mountains are a beehive of activity.”
He said he had no doubt that migrants and drug smugglers were using lookouts to keep track of the rally.
“They know this rally is going on,” he said. “They are not fools. They’re experts. They probably know more about this than we do standing here.”
J. D. Hayworth, who is challenging Senator John McCain in the Republican primary to be held later this month, used the event to question Mr. McCain’s commitment to fighting illegal immigration. Trying to outflank Mr. Hayworth, Mr. McCain has made several stops in the border region recently.
The Obama administration has similarly started a defense of its border policies in recent days.
“Is there more work to be done? Absolutely. Is the problem a significant one, a challenging one for the nation? Absolutely,” John T. Morton, director of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in Phoenix last week, vowing that his agency was committed to securing the border.
The rally was held on private land, not far from where a popular Arizona rancher died in late March in a killing that helped fuel the immigration debate in the state.
Cindy Kolb, a border activist who lives nearby, yelled out through the thick metal slates in the border fence, which had been decorated on the American side with tiny flags, “Hey, don’t come over here anymore.”
She added: “We don’t like illegals hiding under bushes when our kids wait for the school bus. This border needs to be secure.”
See Related: TEA PARTY ARCHIVE
See Related: ARIZONA IMMIGRATION LAW ARCHIVE
SENTINEL FOUNDER PAT MURPHY