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In one border town, tensions high over immigration

PALOMINAS, Ariz.—This town is an eclectic community of retired military, die-hard farmers, former California computer techs and bird lovers whose politics are often perplexing.

"We have rednecks to radicals," said resident Eric Nelson.

But with only a broken-down barbed wire fence and some cottonwood trees separating it from Mexico, Palominas is on the front line of the battle over illegal immigration. Residents' sentiments run the gamut.

Glenn Spencers, for example, is convinced that Mexico is planning a military invasion to recover lost U.S. territory. Twice a day, he sends unpiloted planes aloft with cameras to monitor the border.

"A few days ago I saw a Mexican Army Humvee pass the Border Patrol and turn into mesquite shade. They were positioning a sniper. Now that's aggressive," he said.

Spencers also worries about terrorists smuggling in bombs. He says his group, American Border Patrol, last July twice crossed into Mexico and then back into the United States carrying a simulated weapon of mass destruction, a "bomb" of foam rubber, in a backpack.

The first time, a former Army sniper walked through the desert and was picked up by a passing van and driven to the state capitol in Phoenix, where a security guard asked for identification but didn't check his backpack, which was marked "WMD."

Spencers filmed the experiment and posted it on his Web site,

"We were very careful in making this video to avoid giving terrorists any help in performing a real mission," Spencers said.

One needs only to head over to the Trading Post, the diner that serves as Palominas' gathering place to see that, valid or not, worries are real.

The ramshackle building is dominated by a cacophony of opinions, clouds of cigarette smoke, raucous laughter and the aroma of sizzling Southwestern food. Clients roll their own cigarettes, don cowboy clothes and carry guns. In Arizona, guns can be carried openly by anyone; only those wishing to conceal the weapons need a permit.

Immigration is the topic heard most often. Nearly everyone agrees that neither the U.S. nor Mexican government has a real interest in stopping the trafficking.

"The Mexican government is to blame and should solve its own problems because it's starving its people to death and they want to get rid of them," said Nelson, who works as a ranch hand.

As for the U.S. government: "The Democrats want them (the migrants) because they're bleeding hearts and the Republicans because they are cheap labor."

The San Pedro Valley, where Palominas lies, has "become a toilet," said Edward Thomas, a horse rancher who has lived here for 15 years. "The least the Mexican government could do is send people to clean up the trash the aliens leave behind."

Sympathy for the migrants is hard to find—though not completely absent. "I'm not bothered by the Mexicans," said Paul Phillips, a retired veteran of Desert Storm. "I think most people aren't. They should just let the Border Patrol do its job."

But his opinion is a minority one.

"There's a storm gathering here on the border," said the diner's owner, John Waters, who says his uncle once owned a ranch in Mexico that was appropriated by the government during the nation's 1938 land reforms. "The conditions are ripe for some difficulty."


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): MEXICO-BORDER

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