Mar 23, 2018

Border Trilogy Part 1: Hole in the Fence

Border Trilogy

While scouring the Sonoran Desert for objects left behind by migrants crossing into the United States, anthropologist Jason De León happened upon something he didn't expect to get left behind: a human arm, stripped of flesh.

This macabre discovery sent him reeling, needing to know what exactly happened to the body, and how many migrants die that way in the wilderness. In researching border-crosser deaths in the Arizona desert, he noticed something surprising. Sometime in the late-1990s, the number of migrant deaths shot up dramatically and have stayed high since. Jason traced this increase to a Border Patrol policy still in effect, called “Prevention Through Deterrence.”

Over three episodes, Radiolab will investigate this policy, its surprising origins, and the people whose lives were changed forever because of it.

 

Part 1: Hole in the Fence:

We begin one afternoon in May 1992, when a student named Albert stumbled in late for history class at Bowie High School in El Paso, Texas. His excuse: Border Patrol. Soon more stories of students getting stopped and harassed by Border Patrol started pouring in. So begins the unlikely story of how a handful of Mexican-American high schoolers in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country stood up to what is today the country’s largest federal law enforcement agency. They had no way of knowing at the time, but what would follow was a chain of events that would drastically change the US-Mexico border.

This episode was reported by Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte and was produced by Matt Kielty, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte and Latif Nasser. 

Special thanks to Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, Estela Reyes López, Barbara Hines, Lynn M. Morgan, Mallory Falk, Francesca Begos and Nancy Wiese from Hachette Book Group, Professor Michael Olivas at the University of Houston Law Center, and Josiah McC. Heyman, Ph.D, Director, Center for Interamerican and Border Studies and Professor of Anthropology.

Jason de Leon's latest work is a global participatory art project called Hostile Terrain 94, which will be exhibited at over 70 different locations around the world in 2020.  Read more about it here.  

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

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JA: Jad Abumrad

LN: Latif Nasser

JD: Jason DeLeon

DT: Donald Trump

 

JA: Hey, I’m Jad Abumrad.

 

RK: I’m Robert Krulwich.

 

JA: This is Radiolab.

 

RK: And...let’s just um, let’s just begin.

 

LN: OK, cool. So, umm...

 

JA: With our reporter and producer, Latif Nasser.

 

LN: I think the best place to begin, it sounds like, is in 2008.

JD: Yeah, I think that sounds about right.

 

LN: So, this is Jason DeLeon.

 

JD: I'm an associate professor of anthropology.

 

LN: At the University of Michigan.

 

JD: And I direct the undocumented migration project

 

LN: But, uh back in 2008 Jason had actually just finished grad school.  

 

JD: And, my doctoral dissertation was on ancient stone tools.

 

MUSIC IN  

 

Quote: “The lithic industries of San Lorenzo and Nochetitelon an economic and technological study”

 

JD: About as far removed as you can be from, the stuff that I’m doing right now.

 

Quote: “Using obsidian technological data from 11 domestic and non-domestic contexts.”

 

LN: Just to explain: Jason was on his way to being an archaeologist, so he would go out into the field, do these digs in different parts of Mexico and find these little fragments of old stone tools

 

JD: This study focuses primarily on percussion flake tools

 

LN: Dating back to about 1000 BC

 

JD: An industry that has often been ignored in mesoamerican lithic analyses

 

LN: And then uh he would write these papers

 

JD: I evaluate these models by comparing differences in the frequencies of various tool types

 

LN: You know in these journals that just, that really just a handful of people would read

 

News Clip: Previous meso-american…

 

LN: But like many academics, and I can say this because I was an academic

 

News Clip: The study also finds that the introduction and adoption of prismatic blade

Technology

 

LN: He had this moment where he just kind of...hit the wall

 

JD: Like okay, this is enough, I’m not, I’m not doing this.

 

LN: I want nothing to do with this anymore.

 

RK: [Laughter]

 

JD: You know when I finish my dissertation, I had really become, kind of disillusioned with the work that I was doing.

 

JD: And I had no idea what I was gonna do. I remember telling my wife at one point,"I feel really bad. I feel like I've wasted the last ten years of my life doing archeology.”

 

LN: And to make matters worse

 

JD: I’d taken this job at University of Washington

 

LN: He’d just gotten this job where he was supposed to teach the very thing he’s was now sick of

 

JD: Yeah. Uh, just like, uh, just an exit...just a full-blown, crisis.

 

LN: But then, uh, fate stepped in. While Jason was preparing for one of his freshman classes, someone handed him a book

JD: By a writer named, uh Luis Alberto Urrea called The Devil's, “The Devil's Highway”.

 

SW: Five men stumbled out of the mountain pass so sunstruck, they didn't know their own names couldn't remember where they had come from, had forgotten how long they'd been lost. One of them wandered back up a peak, one of them was barefoot, They were burned nearly black. Their lips huge and cracking.

 

LN: So the Devil’s highway, is actually, well it’s a true story. It’s the story of 26 men who came to the US hiking their way through the Arizona desert. Fourteen of them died along the way.

 

JD: And so I start reading it, and

 

SW: Visions of home fluttered through their minds, soft green bushes, waterfalls, children

 

JD: it just shocked me, I mean I knew a lot about the border. At least I thought I did, I'd grown up, you know, in South Texas my parents were immigrants, but just like I couldn't believe that um that, that you know that this was, this is somebody's world.

 

SW: They were drunk from having their brains baked in the pan. They were seeing God and devils.

 

JD: Days and days of walking um running out of food.

 

SW: And they were dizzy from drinking their own urine.

 

JD: You know, dying of thirst.

 

SW: The poisons clogging their systems.

 

LN: And, at a certain point, Jason comes across this passage where the author is describing

JD: The things that were in these men’s pockets.

 

SW: Belt buckle with a fighting cock inlaid. One wallet in a right front pocket of his jeans.

 

JD: You know, some change, some keys, a silver belt buckle.

 

SW: Fake silver watch, one comb.

 

JD: Um, you know these personal effects,

 

SW: Green handkerchief.

 

JD: And he's trying to reconstruct the story about who these men were that died from from, from exposure.

 

SW: John Doe number 42. Pure jeans. Colored piece of paper in pocket.

 

LN: Jason says when he read that book, a lightbulb went on

 

JD: And so I bought a plane ticket, and a month later I was in the Arizona desert.

 

MUSIC IN

 

LN: Jason gets out to Tucson, Arizona, and he manages to convince someone from a local NGO to basically like show him around and be his guide

 

JD: And I said "I want to look at the stuff that migrants are leaving in the desert."

He was like, "All right, you want to see this stuff. I'm gonna take you real deep into the desert and see what you- what you're made of."

 

JD: This guy just ran me through the wringer.

 

LN: That part of the Sonoran desert it’s uh hilly, covered in sage brush, cacti everywhere, red sand, and Jason says at a certain point a few hours into the hike they walked up this incline, and got to this ridge where they could kind of of look out over this huge expanse

 

JD: Just imagine like a ravine or a wash

 

LN: And Jason says he suddenly noticed that the, the desert ground below them, was just covered in stuff.

 

JD: Over a thousand backpacks and water bottles, I mean the just-

 

JA: What?

 

LN: That much?

JD: Well, what ends up happening is stuff gets left behind, for a couple of different reasons, if you’re en route you might throw something down because you get so tired and your bag just gets so heavy. And those things are kind of sprinkled across these migrant trails. But once you get to the end, past the checkpoint, your smuggler says ok we’re safe now, we’ve got to a new road where we can get picked up, someone else will show up in a truck, and then they will say alright the 30 of you, get into this van, leave everything behind, change your clothes, so it doesn’t look like you’ve just walked for two weeks through this desert, umm, and so when groups were moving really big you would see things the size of like football fields

 

JD: Just stuff everywhere, gatorade bottles, Bibles, photographs, um, toys. The kind of

random of things that you might throw in your bag and say "I'm leaving my home forever,

and these are the things that I want to take with me." You know you see things like a

diaper bag or a baby bottle and you wonder my God, you know, who, who just came

through this and what's, what's happened to them?

 

LN: So...

 

MUSIC IN

 

LN: For the next several years Jason just keeps going back to this stretch of the Sonoran Desert.

 

JD: Ripped clothes. Fragmented clothes in bushes.

 

LN: Gathering whatever he could find.

 

JD: Dirty socks.

 

LN: And y’know like an archaeologist, he would collect this stuff.

 

JD: Bandages.

 

LN: Itemize it. Categorize it.

 

JD: Cocktail dresses. High heel shoes.

 

LN: Try and figure out who it came from. Why it was there.

 

JD: Baby bottles. Hair curlers. Toys. Wrappers.

 

LN: He did this year.

 

JD: Sneakers. Photographs.

 

LN: After year.

 

JD: Socks.

 

LN:  Picking up this.

 

JD: Shoes. Dresses.

 

LN: Picking up that.

 

JD: Backpacks. Bibles. Bottles.

 

LN: And then one day...

 

MUSIC OUT

 

JD: Uh. Human arm...

 

LN: He finds an arm.

 

JD: Wedged between some rocks.

 

LN: Like an entire arm up to the shoulder.

 

JD: Just sort of sticking, sticking out between two rocks. I mean there was no flesh other than the...the...the things that were holding the joint together.

 

JA: Oh wow.

 

JD: Yeah.

 

SILENCE

 

LN: Jason and his guide, the folks he was there with, they began to search the surrounding areas for other parts of the body.

 

JD: I mean really the goal was to try to find this skull. Um, because in terms of, you know, um identification, I mean your best luck is gonna be if you can get, if you can get the, um pieces of the skull.

 

LN: Because if you can find pieces of the skull maybe you can ID the body and if you can ID the body maybe you can tell the family “here’s what happened to your loved one”

 

JD: And so we were out there basically digging around for...for other parts of this person.

 

JD: We come across a human tooth.

 

LN: Some little tiny bits of rib bones?

 

JD: But we never find the skull. And I realize that nobody's ever going to identify this person. There's just not enough left of them. And this is not...not likely to be a case that will be solved.

 

LN: Now Jason says he knew of course, that people were dying in a desert, but to see this

 

JD: The fragments of a person...

 

LN: Who’d basically been erased

 

MUSIC RISES

 

JD: You know, I mean it’s very, [Exhale] I mean it’s kind of just, it sort of just kills you.

 

LN: Eventually he began to have these nightmares

 

JD: Snakes coming out of the eyes

 

LN: about the missing skull.

 

JD: Birds swooping down and pecking out the eyes. Coyotes playing soccer with this person’s skull.

 

LN: And for weeks, he couldn’t shake the simple question:

 

JD: You know what, what did this to this person?

 

LN: And how many other bodies like this might be out here?

 

JD: How did it get to be like this?

 

JA/LN: And those questions

 

LN: Would end up sending Jason down a sort of rabbit hole

 

JD: Digging in the library to

 

LN: Of forensics papers

 

JD: Decomposing flesh.

 

LN: Missing persons reports

 

JD: Hikers who had gone missing.

 

LN: Historical trends

 

JD: Sociology papers. Demography papers.

 

LN: Government documents,

 

JD: illustrations and the figures that are buried in these appendices.

 

LN: And over the next several years, Jason would end up putting together this truly startling portrait of lost stories, hidden statistics, little known policy decisions along our southern border that completely upended how I think about this issue

 

Clip: …: The Immigration issue poses real problems and challenges

 

LN: That we’re constantly fighting about

 

DT: We will build a great wall along the southern border.

 

APPLAUSE

 

LN: But still never quite seeing.

 

JA: This is part one of a three part series on our southern border.

 

RK: We’ll be doing it today, and then next week, and the week after.

 

JA: Part 1, a hole in the fence.

 

LN: Alright, so I thought I’d start us off with Jason’s question.

 

JD: How did it get to be like this?

 

JA/LN: How did it get to be that so many people cross into America through the desert?  

 

LN: Like, that’s the classic image you have, is someone walking through the desert, why, out of all the places, along the border that you could cross, why is it that so many people are, are crossing in the hottest and most unforgiving place imaginable? And, one of the things that Jason ended up telling us about that we found most striking was simply

 

JD: The numbers

 

LN: The yearly numbers of migrant deaths in the desert.

 

JD: And, I mean it is shocking.

 

LN: If you look at the data, there’s a very stark moment when things shift. It turns out that if you’re looking at the number of people dying in the Sonoran desert, the numbers are a bit tough to pin down. But in the early 90s, it’s single digits. Five bodies one year. Six bodies another year, seven bodies another. And then all of the sudden,

 

JD: Overnight

 

LN: In the late ’90s….

 

JD: You go from 5 to 10 bodies to, to hundreds.

 

JD: I mean it used to be that if you wanted to cross the US-Mexican border you’d go down to Tijuana at dusk, a place called the soccer field, you would hop the fence with about a hundred other people and you would just bum rush the border patrol, and half of you would get by, would make it into the US, and the other half would get caught and sent back and people would do it the next day. Um, that was the system for a long time, I mean

 

LN: So what changed?

 

JD: Well, in the mid-90s, there was a lot of pushback against the visibility of fence hopping, and it all kind of starts with this little-known story. There’s a great book by this guy Timothy Dunn called um “Blockading the Border” and it’s about these Latino high school students in Texas right on the US- Mexico border.

 

LN: We ended up calling up the author he mentioned, Timothy Dunn, and then getting so interested in the story that Dunn laid out for us that well, we’re gonna leave Jason behind for a while and we’re gonna go on a little trip.

 

TH: Yes.

 

MK: That by the way is co-reporter Tracie Hunt.

 

TH: Yes.

 

RK: Alright, well so, where are we gonna go?

 

TH: We're going to go to El Paso.

 

MUSIC

 

TH: El Paso, Texas.

 

LN: Yeah so, Tracie and I went to El Paso awhile back.

 

TH: Latif, do you ever think how your life would've been totally different if you were just born somewhere else? Of course you've thought that.

 

LN: If I was born somewhere else? Yeah, of course. I mean I think about that, I feel like... I guess I got distracted at that point? We didn’t finish the conversation, but anyway.

 

MUSIC OUT

 

…: Two flags flying, the American flag and the Texan flag.

 

LN: We went down to El Paso to visit

[Bell sound]

LN: a high school.

 

TH: Called Bowie High School.

 

LN: Home of the Bowie Bears.

 

…: Guys, the bell rang...Well you guys are listening much to me.

 

TH:  You know, in many respects it’s just you know your typical American high school.

 

…: Good morning bears! Yeah baby, Taco Tuesdays.

 

TH: You’ve got your Taco Tuesdays.

 

…: [unintelligible]

 

TH: It’s ninth through twelfth grade.

 

TH: And about 1,200 students.

 

…: All right guys, so please take out your notes, ok?

 

LN: Because it’s Texas, y’know

 

FOOTBALL SOUNDS

 

LN: Football is a big deal.

 

CHEERS/CHANTING

 

LN: And on their campus they have this huge football stadium with those big, you know, Friday Night Lights, uh.

 

…: It’s the pride of the south side.

 

LN: They’ve got a marching band, the pride of the south side, it’s uh yeah, your typical Texas high school.

 

Music In: Band Playing

 

LN: It’s ah yeah you’re typical high school.

 

TH: But, there is something a little different about it and that is that almost all the students here

 

TEACHER: Jennifer is here, Eduardo is here, Jose?

 

ROBOT VOICE: Are Mexican American

 

TEACHER: Josella, Oscar…

 

TH: and, you know, we actually we talked to this former teacher...

 

JS: This is Juan Sybert-Coronado. I was a teacher at Bowie High School in the 1980s and 1990s.

 

TH: And what did you teach?

 

JS: I taught history.

 

TH: And he said that in all his years of teaching at Bowie...

 

JS: I taught there for 21 years and never had a single Anglo student.

 

LN: Really?

 

RK: Really?

TH: Yes.

LN: Never had a single white student.

 

[Wow that’s]

 

LN: But the reason we went to Bowie high school is cause something happened there, in the early 90’s, something that, it sort of, in a, in a kinda roundabout and and totally unforeseeable way, completely changed the way we think about the US-Mexico border.

 

MUSIC IN

 

LN: So where, where we’re gonna start the story is actually in one of Juan Sybert-Coronado’s classes.

 

MUSIC OUT

JS: The class was immediately after lunch, and

 

LN: And, on this particular day, they were gonna have a debate in class, and one the debaters, one of the kids who was gonna be part of the debate, was late.

 

JS: Yes.

 

LN: Uh, his name was Albert.

 

JS: Albert often came, came late to class. And so we'd been waiting and waiting and waiting for him.

 

LN: 10 minutes went by. 15. 20.

 

JS: And eventually he showed up being dragged in by this campus security guy…

 

MUSIC

 

LN: The school security guard.

 

JS: And I thought you know the security guard brought him in because he was you know out doing some miscreant stuff like smoking pot again.

 

[Laughter]

 

JS: And, and so I kind of lay into Albert for being late again and for you know not holding up his responsibilities to his class.



TH: But Albert’s like no. No no no no no. Albert says that he had been at the handball court playing with his friends and then when it was time to go from the court back to class,

 

TH: These two border patrol agents appear, out of nowhere, in their green uniforms, and they just start demanding to see his papers. Like who are you? Where are you from? Let me see your ID.

 

JS: Yeah

 

LN: And he, Albert tries to give them his school ID but they wouldn’t take it. And they actually told him

 

JS: That he needed a federal ID of some sort for them to believe at all that he was a United States citizen or belonged on the campus.

 

LN: And Juan's just standing there like mmm-hmm, uh-huh Border Patrol? Really?

 

JS: You know, I was haranguing the kid, obviously, and.

 

LN: But then 3 or 4 other students in class...

 

JS: Just kind of stepped in and said no, what Albert's telling you is true.

 

MUSIC IN

 

LN: Not only is Albert telling the truth but in the last couple of weeks

 

JS: Border Patrol had been on the handball courts and on the playing fields repeatedly...

 

LN: Stopping students, harassing students

 

JS: And I was quite frankly shocked.

 

LN: Juan says of course he knew that the border patrol was around, because of  where the school is situated. Which we’ll talk about in a second. But he just never understood, how present they were in his students’ lives.

 

JS: I was having a hard time processing this.

 

LN: So over the next few weeks

 

MUSIC IN

 

LN: Juan started asking around different students being like hey have you had anything happen with Border Patrol at school?

JS: And I got literally hundreds of stories.

 

NR: I was walking home from school, and you know I had my backpack on...

 

TH: Nidia Rodriguez, who was a freshman at the time.

 

NR: All of a sudden I saw this truck - a Border Patrol truck and it was speeding my way.

 

TH: A couple agents got out of the truck, and started questioning her.

 

NR: Where am I from or where am I going?

 

EM: Basically we were all rounded up

 

TH: Ernesto Munoz remembers walking to school with a bunch of kids.

EM: We were searched, our backpacks

 

LN: And again, you know, a couple agents got out, started asking him questions.

 

EM: You know where were we born? Our date of birth...What classes we were taking.

 

MDL: We stop, they get out of the truck

 

TH: Marcela De Leon who was walking with a friend near school

 

MDL: And they go, what do you have in the bag? And I go, books, you know what else would I have in my bag? And they were like well let us see.

 

RT: I was walking and they yelled at me, hey get over here!

 

TH: Ricardo Thielma

 

RT: They sped up to me and they stopped in front of me and asked me you know what’s,

what’s in the bag, I was like, books. One of them ripped the bag out from my hands as I was trying to pull it away from him, the other one grabbed me and pushed me up against the truck forcibly took the bag away, rifled through it, pushed me off of the, pulled me away from the truck, threw my bag at me and told me to get out of here.

 

LN: As these stories came out it became clear that even the staff had had its run ins with the border patrol. We talked to the assistant football coach Ben Mario. He told us there was this moment he was driving with two of his football players, they got pulled over by the border patrol and one of them actually pointed a gun at his head.

 

BM: Never had a gun pulled on me. So I thought ok my life is over and I identified

myself. My name is coach Ben Murio. Coach at Bowie High School. I have my football players. I would really appreciate if you’d holster your gun. And the guy barked at me “I’d appreciate if you’d shut your mouth and get out of the car!”

 

LN: Eventually the agent did holster the gun. Ben did get out of the car everything was fine.

 

LN: What was that like having that right in your face?

 

BM: It was one of the scariest things in my life.

 

LN: Wow.

 

RK: Why was the border patrol on the grounds of the school? Do they have some reason?

 

LN: Well so let’s let’s set the scene a little bit uh uh um, more maybe.

 

LN: Because I think to understand what was going on at Bowie High School

 

MUSIC IN

 

LN: You have to understand something else.

 

TV PRESENTER: The legend of El Paso.

 

LN: You have to understand El Paso.

TV PRESENTER: There is a spirit, a flavor. So come on, amigo see it for yourself.

 

MUSIC

 

LN: It's right on the border of Texas, Mexico and New Mexico. It's right there.

 

TH: It's right there. It's also the biggest city.

 

MUSIC- “The West Texas City of El Paso”

 

TH: That shares the border with Mexico too.

 

LN: And the other thing to know about it is that it's like it kind of has a mirror city on the other side of the border which is...

 

TV PRESENTER: Juarez

 

LN: Juarez

 

TH: Ciudad Juárez

 

TV PRESENTER: The largest city on the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

LN: So the two cities are separated by a this little sliver of the Rio Grande, but they were essentially the same city up until 1848 when the US invaded Mexico and annexed half the country. And even now, according to Juan-

 

JS: This mythical division between these two cities it’s just doesn't exist for most of us. I mean I go to the dentist over there. I buy cigarettes over there. Okay, I smoke, yes. Ok, ok? Almost everybody in El Paso knows people who lives in the Ciudad Juárez, people in Ciudad Juárez know people who have family members who live in El Paso. I mean this is literally one community.

 

LN: But the thing is, when everything was going down at Bowie in the early 90s.

 

MUSIC IN

 

LN: It was a community in, in crisis.

 

TELEVISION PRESENTER: So come on amigo and see for yourself (FADE OUT) Tonight the Peso crisis has spilled across the Rio Grande.

 

LN: In the 80s, the Mexican peso crashed.




TELEVISION PRESENTER: A dramatically devalued peso is causing havoc with prices and wages.

 

JA: And so people in Juarez started flocking to El Paso because well that’s where the jobs were. Like jobs in construction.

 

Man: Or childcare, gardening.

 

TH: Though you had tons of people getting these permits to come into El Paso, legally but then you had all these other people.

 

TV Presenter: Workers who can’t get permits required by U.S. law.

 

TH: Who couldn’t get permits, but they still needed to work.

 

TV PRESENTER: ...simply respond to the laws of supply and demand.

 

TH: And so they started coming too...

 

TV PRESENTER: ...making illegal dashes across the border to the United States at unprecedented numbers.

 

LN: I mean it was as high as like 10,000 people a day.

 

RK: A day?

 

LN: Coming back and forth illegally basically for their commute to work.

 

DH: It was chaos. It was a mess here.

 

LN: We spoke to this former Border Patrol Agent, a guy named David Ham.

 

DH: Anti-smuggling special agent.

 

LN: He told us that when, when he was on that job, before dawn, you could go down to certain parts of the Rio Grande

 

DH: You'd have 100-200 people lined up.

 

LN: Waiting on the river's edge.

 

DH: Sun come up and here they come.

 

TV PRESENTER: It's morning in America and the rush hour has begun. The rush to cross the Rio Grande into El Paso...

 

LN: And there are videos where you can see this, you see hundreds of people wading into the shallow parts of the river.

 

LN: ... To cross over to El Paso

 

TV PRESENTER: If they don't want to get wet they can pay a young entrepreneur a small fee and raft across...

 

LN: And so for people like David, these border patrol agents,

 

News Cast: Ok, here comes about a 100

 

LN: It becomes this cat and mouse game

 

DH: From the way we had always done business. They come in, you chase them, catch

them and send them back.

 

LN: Day and night and day and night it was, it was,

 

TV PRESENTER: A never-ending job.

 

DH: And there was something you know you can catch the same guys 2-3 times a shift sometimes.

 

[Laughter]

 

DH: Um so it was, it was chaos.

 

DM: Obviously we're not accomplishing 100 percent of our mission.

 

TH: And, and this is actually kind of hilarious. So like so...

 

TH: Around this time, in 1992 there was a television interview and Dale Musegades. He's the sector chief of the Border Patrol in El Paso. He's wearing his green hat with his green uniform with his gold shield on his chest.

 

DM: If we were not here and did not keep a lid on this situation

 

TH: And in this shots behind him...

 

DM: Uh, there would be just an absolute free inflow from other countries.

 

TH: You can see people climbing up the banks of the Rio Grande and just walking into El Paso, like

[Laughter]

 

RK: That's like having Wyatt Herbs standing in front of three bank robbers robbing a bank.

 

TH: Yeah, Exactly. And um like so ok how many entries um, alright so it was reported at the time that for every one migrant the Border Patrol caught, there were at least three to five who snuck in and didn’t get caught. And The Border Patrol said that this was because they just didn’t have the resources. They didn’t have the money or the agents to apprehend all these people who are coming in.

 

LN: Which, finally brings us back

 

CHANTING

 

LN:... to Bowie high school.

 

LN: Okay alright, okay yeah let's try it.

 

MK: Because there’s two important things about Bowie.

 

LN: Okay I’m counting my steps actually here okay from the sidewalk.

 

LN: One, Bowie is right, right

 

LN: ...3, 4, 5, 6…

 

LN: Right on the border

 

LN: 48, 49... Basically it's 50. That was 50 steps.

 

TH: Fifty steps

 

LN: Fifty steps from the Bowie campus into Mexico.

 

LN: Yeah.

 

LN: And two, uh, the former assistant football coach and teacher, Ben Murillo, he showed me...

LN: What’s, what is that?

 

LN: This fence.

 

BM: That's part of the old fence.

LN: Oh, that's part of the old fence?

 

LN: El Paso in the '70s put up a bunch of fencing on the border to curb illegal immigration.

 

LN: Um, So it's like a... It's, it’s not much taller than us.

 

LN: But, but it was-it was pretty flimsy, they called it a “tortilla curtain”, and right at this spot, across from Bowie High School, there was a hole in the fence.

 

Music In

 

DH: Yeah.

 

MK: And David Ham, a former border control agent, told us that what that meant was that you had migrants, you had a lot of migrants, who would be coming through that hole in the fence.

 

DH: Through Bowie high school.

 

TH: And he claimed that it wasn’t just people looking for work, it was also people bringing in drugs.

 

DH: And the way I know that because I worked at anti-smuggling unit. We'd watch them come through.

 

TH: And so...

 

TH: Border Patrol agents had taken to just sort of hanging out around the school, on the school's property, on the football field, across the street from the school like just

 

LN: Yeah

 

TH: They were just there all the time.

 

MK: There were even rumors that border patrol agents would go undercover as students, and that they would, you know, wander the halls, that they would go into the locker rooms.

 

JS: I'd notice, B- the uh the uh suburbans parked on the Bowie campus.

 

LN: Yeah

 

MK: Again, former Bowie teacher Juan Sybert-Coronado.

 

JS: But, the whole reason you know that I thought they were there was the chainlink was cut and they need to stop people from entering into a high school.

 

LN: Right

 

JS: Instead of realizing that what they're doing is they're using the high school as a hunting ground.

 

LN: And  so to Juan, when he started hearing about all these stories of these 14, 15, 16 year old kids getting stopped and shaken down, it wasn’t about border patrol trying to stop migrants from coming in, or trying to stop drugs from coming across the border, it was-

 

JS: The border patrol simply stopping people because they were brown. And that really uh.... This is radio? Angered me.

 

LN: You can say whatever you want

 

TH: But for most of these kids

 

EM: It was nothing, like out of the ordinary.

 

TH: You know kids like Ernesto Munoz, and Ricardo Thielma,

 

RT: That was just, day to day life.

 

TS: Talking to even to some other community members

MK: Tony Santos

 

TS: They told me, “Ah, don’t worry about it”

 

TH: Growing up in this poor neighborhood right next the border.

 

Man: It was just like way of life in south El Paso.

 

EM: It, it wasn’t, like a concern, like oh no you got stopped?

RT: You go to the park, uh and shoot some basketball. You’d tell your, your schoolmates, you know, guess what happened after school?

 

EM: He was like, you know haha you got stopped! It was probably cause of your haircut or probably cause of how you’re dressed or whatever.

 

LN: So the students were more likely to laugh about it than be angry but in his U.S.History class that year, Juan started teaching his kids about civil rights, actually getting them to debate tthe ways of thinking about civil rights.

 

XX: Talking about stuff like

 

MLK? The activities which have taken place in Birmingham over the last few days.

 

XX: Uh letter from the Birmingham jail.

 

MLK?: To my mind marked the nonviolent movement coming of age.

 

LN: And

 

XX: It’s liberty [inaudible]

 

XX: Malcolm X’s Ballet for the Bullet.

 

MX: There’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.

LN: And so these students are learning about

 

Newscaster

 

LN: Farmworkers strikes in California in the 1960s.

 

… We learned about Cesar Chavez.

 

…: And the workers know, that they are no longer alone.

 

…: We learn about Dolores Huerta, uh Reies Lopez Tijerina. And it was like ok I’m

I’m reading the book and then I look outside the window and, there they are.

 

MK: Border patrol agents in SUVs, on the parking lot, stopping students.

 

EM: I think that’s when, you know, we were like, wait

 

JS: This kinda like

 

LN: It felt not okay.

 

NR: I mean I didn’t fully know exactly the letter of the law,

 

TH: That’s Nadia Rodriguez, again.

 

NR: but I knew that what they were doing was wrong.

EM: And

 

TH: Eventually, some of these students started to get together

 

EM: Met, and talked

JS: Like, you think this is right? What do you think this is about?

 

NR: Telling each other you know that this is wrong.

 

EM: We talked about how we wanted things to be different

 

JS: Let’s see what we can do about it, because, this has to stop.

 

Choir teacher: Alright? Alright that’s what’s up!

 

PIANO

 

JA: Coming up, Juan and his students fight back

 

RK: We’ll continue in just a moment.

 

Choir teacher: Let’s do with some more warm-ups, let’s do ah

 

VOCALIZING

 

AUDIO VOCAL WARM UPS

 

FADE OUT

 

LN: Latif, Tracie, and

 

RV: Hello?

 

MK: Ricardo

TS: Umm

 

LN: And Tony,

 

LN: Alright

 

LN: So, Some of these, at kids at Bowie High School, they actually belonged to this group

… MECHA

LN: MECHA

… [inaudible]

 

LN: Which is a Chicano civil rights group.

 

TS: They have been around since 1960’s

 

MK: It actually, it was a college only group, but apparently these kids at Bowie, um, petitioned them to have a chapter at the high school.

 

RV: And um,

 

MK: They made their case, and MECHA said, sure!

 

MUSIC IN

 

RV: We were the first ones to get a collegiate group.

 

LN: And they asked Juan if he could, you know, supervise.



JS: We would meet about once a week, and our meetings tended to be 30, 40, 50 kids packed into a classroom,

 

TH: And for one of these meetings, Juan brought in one of his friends, a woman named Susan Kern, she who worked at the Border Rights coalition, and so she comes in, and starts telling her, you know, what’s been going on, and they ask her do we have any rights here? She tells them, absolutely you do because according to the US constitution, the border patrol, or really any officer of the law,

 

JS: They cannot stop you, without reasonable cause.

 

MUSIC OUT

 

TH: Like they have to have seen you cross the border, or when you saw them, you started acting fidgety or you ran away, or something!

 

JS: They can’t just arbitrarily stop you

 

TH: Question you.

 

RV: Just because the color of your skin

 

JS: That’s not enough to stop you.

 

LN: Because if that’s the only reason they have to stop you, then they’re violating your fourth amendment right.

 

TH: Their right to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures.

 

JS: Exactly.

 

RV: They just said, you know what, you’re getting- your rights are getting stomped all over, let’s see what we can do about this because it needs to stop.

 

JA: After Susan explained that their rights were being violated, the conversation turned to what are we going do about it?

 

JS: We have a lot of students who were suggesting things that were probably, you know, slightly inappropriate.

 

JA: Like how bout we just like...curse em out?

 

JS: Which I thought, well maybe that’s not a bad approach, but, uh apparently,

 

TH: According to Juan’s lawyer friend Susan,

 

JS: fuck off was not the right response

LN: [laughs]

 

LN: That can maybe get you in trouble?

 

JS: Can be considered assault, and so-

 

TH: Another student said well how about if we just y’know run away from them?

 

JS: Uh no

 

LN: Another kid was like, what if we just fight back?

 

JS: Oh God

 

ROBOT VOICE: Oh, definitely don’t do that.

 

JS: Mm-mm

 

LN: But finally,

 

MUSIC Law & Order Theme

 

MK: One of the students

 

JS: Who’d been watching Law & Order-

 

L&O4: Debbie Mason you’re under arrest for the attempted murder of your mother.

L&O5: No, this is a mistake.

 

JS: Who knew all about saying

 

L&O4: You have the right to remain silent.

L&O5: No!

 

JS: The right to remain silent.

 

L&O3: Caroline Tyler, you have the right to remain silent.

 

LN: He was like, that’s a thing

 

TH: Which is your fifth amendment constitutional right

 

TH: And it’s something you typically hear

 

…: I have however been instructed by my counsel not to testify… based on my fifth amendment constitutional rights.

 

MK: When rich, white dudes get in trouble.

 

...: On the advice of counsel I invoke my fifth amendment privilege and respectfully decline to answer your question.

 

LN: But this one Bowie, MECHA student was like, why don’t we do that?

 

MUSIC IN

 

JS: And that’s exactly what our students started doing

 

TH: After that, when border patrol agents would stop students and say “hey, give me your papers.” Some of these students would say, No!

 

STUDENT: I want to use my fifth amendment right

 

JS: I want to take the fifth amendment.

 

STUDENT: amendment right to remain silent.

 

…: Simple as that, I have the right not to incriminate myself

 

STUDENT: To remain silent.

 

JS: I do not want to answer your questions.

 

...: Sorry, had to burp, ok ready?

 

STUDENT: Mhmm

STUDENT: I have a fifth amendment right

 

STUDENTS: To

 

STUDENT: to remain silent

 

STUDENTS: remain silent.

 

…: I don’t want you to go through any of my stuff

 

STUDENT: Right to remain silent.

 

ROBOT VOICE: You’re not going through my backpack, I’m not talking to you.

 

STUDENT: I want to use my fifth amendment

 

STUDENT: Fifth amendment right

 

JS: And, their message started spreading around,

 

STUDENT: Right to remain silent.

 

STUDENT: Remain silent.

 

STUDENT: Silent.

 

STUDENT: Silent.

 

STUDENT: Silent.

 

STUDENT: Silent.

 

JS: That we really don’t need to answer these people’s questions,

 

STUDENT: To remain silent?

 

TH: Yeah, perfect, you nailed it.

 

STUDENTS: (CHEERING)

 

TH: Nice to meet you, y’all have a good day.

 

STUDENTS: Bye miss!

 

LN: I'm kind of trying to imagine myself being you and giving advice to these students, and on the one hand, obviously this is their legal right not to provide this information. On the other hand, I can imagine that, you know, I’ve heard that there are these Border Patrol abuses, there are ug you know, there are times when this doesn't go well, and I'm telling these students to go out and basically, you know, stonewall these agents, and it could put them in harm's way at some point.

 

JS: And it did frequently

 

MUSIC IN

 

JS:  Uh, students were harrassed for this. Students were... the most notorious case is the case of David Renteria.

 

DR: And uh the way I'll start it was on June the 3rd...

 

LN: So this is David Renteria from a documentary that was made in the 90s about Bowie High School.

 

TH: Yeah, so David Renteria he was a senior at Bowie

 

TD: A legally blind student who was coming home from graduation practice.

 

DR: And uh…

 

ROBOT VOICE: And this one day, he and a friend are just walking down the street, and a Border Patrol truck rolls up.

 

DR: They stop and they ask us for citizenship and I respond you know, U.S. citizen, my friend did the same thing. And then they ask us again, what is your citizenship? U.S. citizen. They ask us again and I said U.S. citizen. And I looked at my friend and I said, 'you know what, let's go.' Kept on walking. And the border patrol agent on the passenger side said if we didn't stop, they were going to beat us up real bad, to the point where we weren't going to be able to move.

 

MK: So this border patrol agent gets out of the truck, comes up to David...

 

JS: And started threatening to break his arm if he tried to walk away.

 

DR: I felt his hand on my arm, left elbow, he jerked it back, when he jerked it, I turned and faced you.  And I looked and said to him. I’m exercising the right to remain silent. And he got me and he slammed me against the fence and he put his left forearm on the back of my neck. And he kicked my legs.

 

TH: Slapped him in the face apparently. And, you know, David wasn’t physically injured after that. He was freaked out.

 

LN: But the reason that Juan called this particular incident notorious is because…

 

MUSIC IN

 

LN: Immediately after, the local news in El Paso picked it up and started doing a lot more reporting on, on Border Patrol, on Bowie, and so did-

 

TV PRESENTER: From the El Paso, Texas, Good Morning America!

 

LN: National News.

 

JS: Good Morning freakin America, you know what I mean? That’s, that’s pretty huge

 

TV REPORTER: The daily invasion has strained the relationship between the Border Patrol and some people at Bowie High School.

 

JS: Y’know and, and they’re talking to us.

 

STUDENT: We all have rights, and that our rights daily, on a day-to-day course are being violated,

 

INTERVIEWER: Why are they harassing you?

 

STUDENT: Because we’re Hispanic, because the color of our skin, because we live right on border, and because, well, we live in a really poor neighborhood and, that’s the only reason.

 

LN: And as this news started to grow, the Border Patrol Sector Chief, Dale Musegades, decided he was gonna come to Bowie to talk to the students. Is that something you remember? Him showing up to ?

 

JS: [laughs] Oh yeah, Mr. Musegades, uh, that guy was kinda doing damage control at that point.

 

TV REPORTER: When agent Dale Musegades met with about 40 students to discuss the alleged harassment, he kept us out.

 

LN: We tried to contact Dale Musegades multiple times, for this story, but he did not reply to our voicemails, or emails. But-

 

DM: [unintelligble] Wednesday morning…

 

LN: We were able to get footage, of that meeting Musegades kept Good Morning America out of.

 

LN: Because one of the students, uh taped this and then we managed to get our hands on it.

 

RK: Huh,

 

LN: So it’s like 30, 40 kids, from MECHA, in this classroom, and Dale Musegades…

 

JS: He was sitting in front of us, wearing a suit and tie, trying to put things into perspective-

DM: Uh,

 

LN: He started telling the students like, look the holes in the fence?

 

DM: I can’t hold those holes.

 

MK: We keep patching them up, they keep getting cut open…

 

DM: And something, it’s a commitment, and I said I would try, it’s a commitment I can’t, I don’t think there’s anyway in the world to keep those holes closed.

 

LN: And he told the students, they, they’ve busted some people who have brought drugs through Bowie,

 

DM: I now have another case that’s under investigation

 

LN: So Musegade is like we’re essentially trying to stop the flow of drugs here..why are you guys complaining so much?

 

VOICES BOO

 

TH: But eventually-

 

PSS: Let’s get some of these students- C’mon you had your hand raised over there, go ahead.

 

TH: The students start speaking up.

PSS: Give him your name.

 

S1: My name is [LORENA ANDRES?] I’ve been living here right on the border on Delta

 

LN: One student stands up and says A you’re harassing us, and that’s why we’re upset and B your strategy for capturing border crossers seems to be to be to herd them all into the school where they’re penned in  

 

S1: You're treating human beings like cattle. What you’re doing is you run them into a place where they can’t get out and then you circle them in? You’re treating them like cattle, not human beings.

 

DM: Those people will not stop or will not obey the law. So you have to somehow or another apprehend them. I don't... I... You know I don't know a better way to do it.

 

S2: But not at the sacrifice of our rights.

 

LN: It’s a little hard to hear, but he said not at the sacrifice of our rights.

 

DM: What you mean the sacrifice of their rights? They’re illegally in this country

 

S2: OUR rights

 

...: Alright alright

 

S1: But they’re human beings! They have rights.

 

DM: They do not have rights to come into the United States illegally...

 

LN: What did it feel like to be sitting in that meeting? I mean...

 

JS: Well, it felt bizarre. I mean that you know somebody is denying what everybody sees with their own eyes.

 

…: Yeah, there was no face value to what, what he said, y’know cause at that point we were cynic- cynical about the whole situation, and y’know you can’t undo the stuff that was already done

 

LN: So the meeting goes poorly, and a bunch of the students, and some of the staff, including Ben Murio, the assistant football coach, who had a gun pointed in his face, they all together decide that they want to, sue the border patrol.

 

MUSIC IN

 

AA: The phone rings one day...

 

LN: And eventually they call up this guy.

 

AA: I said we’re getting ready to sue the border patrol. Will you be our local counsel? And I said not only yes, but hell yes. [Laughter]

 

LN: El Paso civil rights lawyer, Albert Armenenener Jr.

 

LN: Were you optimistic?

 

AA: I mean, uh, it’s never an easy job. Suing the government is not easy.

 

JS: When you live on the border and work in Segundo Barrio, you are never optimistic that a governmental system is going to work for you.

 

LN: So,

 

MUSIC



LN: October 23, 1992, the trial between Bowie high school and the Border Patrol begins. And apparently the courtroom was pretty much divided in half, on one half you had the border patrol, like a ton of agents, in full uniform sitting there. On the other half, you had, these Bowie students.

 

AA: Dressed in their finest.

 

TH: Sunday dresses, slacks, shirts

 

AA: Those kids were little troopers. They all got up on the stand, told their stories

 

TH: And then eventually the border patrol sector chief, Dale Musegades testifies

 

AA: Yeah.

 

LN: Do, do you remember what the defense’s argument was?

 

AA: Well they had lots of arguments, umm.

 

LN: Now we can’t verify the specifics of what happened in the courtroom because a lot of the court documents have been destroyed, but Musegades got up there and his basic argument was that if you look at the... the US code of federal regulations section 1357, Powers of Immigration officers and employees, um, number 1, officers have the power to interrogate any alien or person believed to be an alien, as to his right to be, or to remain in the United States, and they can do that without a warrant. And then skipping down a bit from that, umm they can do that quote “Within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States.”

 

JA: What’s a, what’s a reasonable distance?

 

LN: This is what’s nuts is, I don’t know exactly what went into the determination of what that is, but the distance is a hundred miles.

 

JA: Really?

 

LN: Yeah, in that hundred mile zone, border patrol has the power to interrogate, has the power to arrest without warrant, and they can also, and I’m quoting here, uh quote “search for aliens in any railway car, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle within that distance”. And then on top of that, within a narrower distance of 25 miles from the border, they can go right onto private property whenever they want. There’s, it’s like this little zone

 

AA: That’s designed to prevent border patrol officers from being charged with trespass when patrolling the border. I cross examined Chief Musegades, and so,

 

LN: What Musegades was arguing, is that like, if they have all of this power, and if they can go on y’know private property right up on the border, and you got this high school on the border, then there’s no question that they can be on school property and do their jobs.

 

AA: That’s how they read that. What they couldn’t understand is, they were doing it in a way that violated the constitution and that is against the supreme law of the land.

 

LN: This was Albert’s argument, that no matter what powers you have, you can’t violate somebody’s 4th amendment right. You have to have a legitimate reason to stop somebody.

 

RK: Hm. So what, what ultimately happened?

 

TH: Okay, before this court, uh Findings of fact and conclusions of law Bunton comma Senior District Judge before this court is plaintiff's motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction memorandum of law and support, pursuants to rule, I don't know, Does that sound like anything to you?

 

RK: Yeah yeah he's saying here's what we got in front of me here.

 

TH: Alright, okay.

 

RK: So read the next paragraph, down one.

 

TH: Jurisdiction and venue,

 

RK: Okay that means, keep, read the next one,

 

TH: Findings of fact. The litigation, the name individual plaintiffs are...

 

RK: Go to the very, vey bottom, last paragraph.

 

(laughter)

 

RK: Is it "I hereby order..?"

 

TH: The court hereby enjoins the immigration and naturalization service, the INS, which is above, at the time was above the Border Patrol, from stopping and questioning an individual as to his or her right to be or remain in the United States unless the agent has reasonable suspicion based on specific articulable facts involving more than the mere appearance of the individual being of Hispanic descent-

 

RK: Okay that's a fancy way of saying stop judging people by their looks, signs the judge.

 

TH: Yes!

 

LN: Correct.

 

RK: So, they won.

 

LN: They won!

 

MUSIC

 

AA: It was just absolute elation

 

TH: There’s a big celebratory, school assembly.

 

TS: For the whole school

 

TH: Oh wow

 

ROBOT VOICE: Tony Santos was there

TS: We were, yay, all happy

 

TH: There were all these parties

 

AA: people gave us plaques, I think I may even have some on the wall out there.

 

RICARDO VILLERMA: It was pretty awesome.

 

MK: Again, former student Ricardo Villerma.

 

RV: It was crazy, to say the least.

 

TV PRESENTER: The final ruling holds up that the Border Patrol did violate constitutional rights.

 

BEN MURILLO: You just don’t see the agents on our campus anymore.

 

LN: That’s the assistant football coach, Ben Murillo, who ended up being the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

 

…: They’re Treating us like people, not like second class citizens, not like we have to be submissive simply because they’re Federal agents.

 

RV: You know, we couldn’t believe that we took on the federal government and won. That was one of the first times I was really proud of what our government, y’know, stands for.

 

MUSIC OUT

 

LN: And Ricardo said, coming out of federal court that day, it was like him, and seven other students, and they came out and there was a bunch of other students and faculty from the school there.

 

RV: Everybody was like cool, let’s go back to school, hop in the car like, no, we kinda want to bask in this. So we walked from uh, the federal courthouse downtown to Bowie High School. And, y’know when we were getting there we were all just kind of tearing up, we were proud, we were just happy, and uh, surprised all at once, it’s, we were beside ourselves. And, y’know we had camera crews and news crews waiting for us as we were walking up, cause I guess they got wind that we were just walking back to school.

 

LN: But in the wake of this victory, in the months following there would be a chain of events that would really drastically change the US-Mexico border forever, and take us to, really to where we are now.

 

TH: When you, because you wrote in that essay sort of just, you don’t see a connection, you don’t think there’s a connection but the fact that the connection is being made still sort of weighs on you?

 

…: Of course it weighs on us, ok? Because I mean, because of us, fences were built, because the fences were built, maybe 10,000 people have died in the desert.

 

MUSIC

 

….“Men tore their faces open chewing XX and prickly pears. Gutted plants that tore them apart with their claws. The green here was gray.” They walked west though they didn’t know it. They had no concept anymore of destination. They were in a vast trickery of sand. One of them said XX.

 

RK: So how this story goes from jubilation and pride to death in the desert, that’s the subject of our next episode.