From the September 1994 issue of TLD
(premier issue)


A Clutch of Nettles
By Virginia Dare


Tunnel rats, typhoid, and taxes


I see America, or what's left of her, while flying business class. Anything that gets me out of the Greater Beltway Ghetto and into the Heartland is worth the inconvenience of living out of a suitcase and eating airline food. One of the less-obvious advantages is the opportunity to expose myself to local news. In Washington, the residents regard local and national news as virtually interchangeable; the first time I saw a news broadcast in which the lead-off Washington-centric story came after the first commercial, I was stunned.

In late April, when I was in Tucson for a weekend meeting and had a chance to flip on the television, the 5 o'clock news was airing an in-depth feature about a colony of Mexican children, ranging in age from 6 to the mid-teens. These "tunnel rats," as the Border Patrol called them, lived in an irrigation tunnel separating Nogales, Arizona, from Nogales, Mexico. They made a fairly reliable income by preying on illegal immigrants traveling through the tunnel to the United States. While their preferred fund-raising method was panhandling, their client population wasn't in possession of much disposable cash, so the kids used robbery with intent to do bodily harm as their fall-back position. The proceeds kept them in food, liquor, and ample mind-altering chemicals (pot, crack, sniffable glue, etc.) to support their lifestyle of choice.

The authorities pretty much allowed the natural order of things to prevail; you might think of it as NAFTA in action on a person-to-person level. Eventually, official intervention was deemed necessary when the kids started expanding their interpretation of the food chain to include tourists and the do-gooder types who came offering nutritious food, baths, and schooling opportunities. (I can understand the consternation triggered by the competition for the tourism dollar, but it's a pity that the authorities placed a bag limit on the social workers.) The child-welfare hand-wringers were particularly upset because the tunnel in which the kids had set up housekeeping was a conduit for raw sewage flowing from Mexico to Arizona. That's right: raw sewage. Apparently nobody gave a damn about its effect on the hard-working, law-abiding citizens of Arizona. It became an issue because children were living in the tunnel, not because illegal immigrants were carrying God-knows-what potential epidemics into the lettuce fields and restaurant kitchens of the United States.

The story closed with some interesting footage of border cops chasing kids, and both sets of combatants cheerfully mauling each other with nightsticks, teeth, fingernails, and beer bottles as they sloshed around in the calf-deep water. The authorities, we were told, installed barriers on the Arizona side of the tunnel, which caused the diversion of the illegal-immigrant thoroughfare to an overland route outside of town — but only for a day or so, for the kids then had the gates down, and things returned to what passed for normal. Residents called for vigilante action, but that fit of citizenship soon subsided.

Six weeks later, in Pittsburgh, I was channel-surfing until Rush Limbaugh came on, and my thumb was arrested in mid-click by the sight of some familiar tunnel footage. It was a major story on CNN that night, the plot pretty much unchanged, but with the addition of a few sequences of preteen boys sniffing glue from Pepsi cans, their eyes rolled back in their skulls like trance dancers. Then came a clip of cops wrestling a child to the ground. I'd seen the same sequence in Tucson, but this time the footage immediately following, showing the kid ducking the cop's head into the sewage, had been deleted. Hand-wringing and saccharine dialogue followed, and the story closed with the Bad Authorities setting a grille into the tunnel despite the fact that the poor unfortunate youths were still at large, presumably now cut off from their means of livelihood. Still glossed over was the question of raw sewage flowing across the border, for which a metal grille was no barrier. No mention was made of the plight of the local citizens, but my money says they were still wholeheartedly pro-grille and anti-kid.

I realize I'm committing serious P.C. sins by siding with Those Bastard Arizonans, who have some of the most permissive gun laws in the country. Besides, there's that Holiday in January over which a governor came to grief. But socially reprehensible taxpayers and homeowners need love, too. It's just harder to love them than some glue-sniffing adolescent felon who would kick the shit out of you — in the shit, if necessary — to get his hands on your Pentax.

Ponder all this, O Best Beloved, as you buy produce from the Southwest and plan your vacation to the Grand Canyon. Ask yourself why the tenderhearted protectors of your liberties expended more effort impounding a tractor alleged to have mangled a kangaroo rat than stopping the flow of sewage from a country to which we have given preferential economic treatment. Ask yourself why U.S. social agencies were using your tax dollar trying to rescue feral foreign nationals in order to put them, with their interesting interpersonal skills, into classrooms next to your children. Ask yourself whether the Hillarious Clinton Health Care Plan will include immunization against cholera, typhoid, bubonic plague, and other imports resulting from favored-nation trade policies.

Incidentally, I'd advise against drinking the water in Nogales.

Virginia Dare writes from the Old Dominion and believes we'd be much better off if Stonewall Jackson had made it to Gettysburg.

© 1994, 2002 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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