Do Illegal Immigrants Have More Rights Than Americans? The Case of John Petrello

See also Glynn Custred`s

Alien Crossings

Chilton Williamson`s


The hamlet of

Whetstone, Arizona
is not large enough to be
included on my Rand McNally roadmap of the state. The
locale is familiar to me though, lying between Benson
and Sierra Vista where mesquite deserts alternate with
sky islands formed by knifeblade mountain ridges covered
by pine and oak. In winter, migratory birds from Latin
and South America flock in the region. Summer and
winter, it throngs with another kind of visitor:
nonfeathered bipedals from south of the international
border thirty or so miles away, men, women, and children
wearing huaraches and carrying backpacks on their
surreptitious arrival in the United States.

For decades, the desert between
Naco and Douglas, Arizona and the mountainous country
between Douglas and Cloverdale, New Mexico have been
busy crossing points for drug smugglers and “ordinary”
illegal aliens. Since the Border Patrol cracked down on
the major southwestern migrant thoroughfares of Tijuana,
Tucson, and El Paso in the 1990s, the volume of human
traffic coming through the vicinity of Douglas in
Cochise County has increased dramatically, to the
consternation of residents whose land is crisscrossed by
trails worn by tens of thousands of scurrying feet,
their dogs killed, their property damaged. According to
J. Zane Walley, writing for

  (October 19, 2001),

The foot traffic is so
heavy that the backcountry has the ambience of a garbage
dump and smells like an outdoor privy. In places, the
land is littered a foot deep with bottles, cans,
disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, panties, clothes,
backpacks, human feces, used toilet paper, pharmacy
bottles and syringes (the drug runners inject stimulants
to keep their energy up).

Added to the smell of privy is the
smell of fear. Unsolved murders and arsons are common.
Citizens acting in self-defense worry about retaliation
by coyotes smuggling people and “narco-militarists”
running drugs.

For the past few years some of
these citizens, many of them ranchers, have cooperated
with the Border Patrol in a

self-defense effort:
accosting the illegal immigrant
invaders, making citizens` arrests in conformity with
Arizona law, and holding the detainees until the agents
show up. In spite of outcries from all the predictable
sources (immigration
advocacy groups
, the

Mexican government
, the

, and The Nation magazine, all of which
regard these latter-day minutemen as

racist xenophobic vigilantes
), the strategy has
proved effective.

John Petrello of Whetstone had been
aiding the Border Patrol for the past couple of years,
detaining illegal immigrants headed north to Interstate
10, sometimes on a beeline across his property. So he
wasn`t especially surprised when, at 8:30 on the morning
of September 23, 2001, a Sunday, his friend Phil Mathews
burst into the house to tell him fourteen aliens had
been dropped off by coyotes almost in his back yard.
John shouted at his wife to call the Patrol. While
Dorothy put the call through, he and Phil approached the
party with

leveled guns.

Not long before, John had been
forced to fire warning shots ahead of a band of twelve
backpacked Mexicans running at his pregnant wife and
three-year-old daughter. Fearing the men were drug
mules, he had got between them and his family, yelling,
¡Alto!” They kept advancing and he fired nine
rounds into the ground ahead of them, causing one of the
men to flee. When the eleven refused to halt, John
placed a few shots much closer to them.

“I didn`t want to kill anybody,” he
says. “But I needed them to know I was serious. They
stopped this time and we looked at one another and I
pointed the pistol straight into them. They left at that

This morning, when the aliens saw
John and Phil coming at them, they ran from his property
across the road onto land belonging to a neighbor. The
two men told the Mexican party to stop, get down on the
ground, and lie there. “¿Hablan inglés?” they
demanded. But nobody knew English, or admitted to
knowing any.

As the Arizonans were keeping the
group covered, a car riding low down on its springs
beneath the weight of a second group of illegals drove
up, their coyote at the wheel. While John kept a watch
on the first party, Phil detained the new arrivals.

Between them, the two men stood
guard now over about 26 illegal immigrants as they
waited for the Border Patrol. The agents politely
requested John and Phil to make out a report on the
incident (agents of the

U.S. Border Patrol
are almost invariably polite).
Then they left, taking their prisoners with them.

All things considered, this
citizens` apprehension seemed a smoother operation than
the previous one, when John had been forced to fire his
gun and Dorothy was compelled to call 911 rather than
the Border Patrol. In that instance, after the cops
claimed to lack jurisdiction to deal with illegal
aliens, the BP agents showed up, assured John they
considered his a legal defense action, and put him on
file with regard to the incident. So both men were
surprised as well as disturbed when at 2:30 that
afternoon they met a Cochise County sheriff`s deputy
named Julia Francis driving her patrol car on Redwing
Street, a dirt lane immediately off the Petrellos` road.

Deputy Francis was polite, but
firm. The aliens arrested that morning, she informed
him, were suing John for violation of their civil
rights, after lodging a complaint with Miguel Escobar
Valdez, the Mexican consul in Douglas. He could be
subject to arrest in coming days. As Escobar told it,
when he asked them whether they had felt threatened by
two men with drawn guns giving orders in a foreign
language, they had replied with the Spanish equivalent
of, “Hell yes—absolutely!” The Cochise County attorney,
Francis added, planned to investigate whether the aliens
had a legal case against John Petrello of Whetstone,
Arizona. He was to be served with papers soon, apprising
him of his legal situation.

The deputy then questioned Petrello
about Phil Mathews` role. Petrello answered that
Matthews could speak for himself. She threatened to
handcuff Petrello on the spot and was dissuaded from
doing so only by Mathews himself providing the details
she requested.

Local reaction to Petrello and
Mathews` “vigilantism” has been generally sympathetic.

Roger Barnett
, a rancher who has worked with the
Border Patrol for years in

detaining illegal aliens,
called John to assure him
that Miguel Escobar regularly tries to intimidate
property owners on the American side of the border, “but
you didn`t fall for it.” The Sierra Times, an
Internet publication to which Petrello contributes,

that, “two Cochise County men may soon have to
pay a price for what many would consider a civic duty.
Apparently stopping an illegal encroachment across a
national border can get you in a lot of trouble.” A
spokeswoman for the

Cochise County Sheriff`s Department
told a reporter for the Sierra Vista Herald
that, while it is entirely normal for the
county attorney to investigate a case where guns are
drawn and leveled, previous incidents in which citizens
have detained alien illegals at gunpoint have not
resulted in charges being filed.

However, the sheriff`s office had
yet to notify John Petrello that the aliens` suit
against him had been dropped, or that he was off the
legal hook as far as Cochise County was concerned. There
was nothing for him to do, it seemed, but wait. While
waiting, he also contacted VDARE.COM.

My guess on hearing Petrello`s
story was that some leftwing immigration lawyer out of
Tucson, and not the Mexican consulate, had encouraged
the Mexicans to bring suit. The Sierra Times,
however, reported that the suit was filed with the help
of the consul himself. So I phoned Miguel Escobar and
asked him directly whether he were behind the lawsuit
and, if so, whether the plaintiffs intended to follow
through with their action.

Señor Escobar is a well-spoken and
refined gentleman, speaking perfect English. No, he
said, there was no suit in the works, nor had his office
played a role in encouraging one. “The migrants
involved,” he said, “were deported and are either back
in Mexico, or—as I fear—may have recrossed the border
into the United States again.”

I had to suspect the consul was
being disingenuous in expressing fear that these illegal
immigrants had made it into the U.S. But I felt I had no
reason to resent him. His job is to look after his own
people, not to look out for the interests of the United
States of America. Only Americans and their government
can do that.

We chatted briefly about the
striking desert country around Douglas, Arizona and Agua
Prieta directly across the international line (I`ve
drunk many cold cervesas in preference to the
muddy water there), and said Adiós.

Something in all this didn`t add up
and that something, I thought, was Sheriff`s Deputy
Julia Francis. The Department spokeswoman, Carol Capas,
had told the press that charges had not been filed in
previous incidents similar to that involving John
Petrello. So why wasn`t Deputy Francis aware of that
fact? Or, if she was, why had she given Petrello the
impression that he was in danger of being arraigned
before the International Court in the Hague?

I picked up the phone again and
learned from the dispatcher that Julia Francis was
working night shift that week. I told her I had
questions concerning the Petrello case and hoped Deputy
Francis could answer them for me. The dispatcher took my
number and said the deputy would be happy to return my
call. She did call back—once, while I was out.
The phone-tag game ended following my return call.

Both Petrello and I were assuming
the charges to have been either nonexistent, or dropped.
In which case, why hadn`t John been notified of the
fact? Only a few days later, I received email from him
informing me that the long-awaited paperwork had arrived
at last. I phoned, and we went over the document
together. Petrello, it seemed, had not been “served”
with anything. Rather he`d been cc`d with the narrative
police report of an “incident.”  But he and Phil Mathews
were conscientiously referred to throughout as the
“suspects,” and the illegal alien trespassers as the
“victims.” The report, of course, detailed events as
they were recalled by Deputy Julia Francis. Missing was
any mention of Consul Escobar, a threatened lawsuit on
the part of the aliens, and Deputy Francis`s threat to
handcuff Petrello, who remains perplexed by the entire

“Everything that I was told is
different from the paperwork I got,” he told me.  Why,
he wondered, when he called the police in the first
trespassing instance did they refuse to come out, while
when the illegal aliens complained to Consul
Escobar—assuming they really did complain—did he
receive a visit from a deputy in a patrol car?
Petrello`s answer:

illegal aliens have more rights
in America,
apparently, than

American citizens

John Petrello`s adventure, routine
as it may have been within the context of Cochise County
life – up to the advent of Deputy Francis, that is –
has, in hindsight, a touching innocence. No doubt
because his detainees were Mexicanos, Petrello
assumed them to be simply “undocumented aliens,” at
worst drug mules. Although the disputed detention
occurred on September 23, twelve days after the
attacks in New York and Washington, the possibility that
he was confronting terrorists seems not to have occurred
to him.

But the fact is that Arabs have
been coming across the Arizona border for many years
now. A Border Patrol supervisory agent told Zane Walley
that “about one in ten [illegals] we catch is from a
country like Yemen or Egypt.” Walley writes,

According to the

San Diego Union-Tribune,

hours after the 9-11 attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon, an anonymous caller led
Mexican immigration agents to 41 undocumented Iraqis
waiting to cross into the United States. The Associated

that Mexican immigration police detained 13
citizens of Yemen on Sept. 24, 2001, who were reportedly
waiting to cross the border into Arizona. The Yemenis
were arrested …in Agua Prieta, across the border from
Douglas….   …Agua Prieta police officials [were quoted]
as identifying the 13 Yemenis as terrorists. Reportedly,
the Mexican immigration police returned the Yemenis to a
federal detention center near Mexico City, but new
information would indicate that they were “released” and
returned to Agua Prieta.

On October 19, Carlos X. Carillo,
assistant chief of the Border Patrol`s Tucson Sector,
told WorldNetDaily of nine Yemenis lodged in an Agua
Prieta hotel. The report was confirmed by a field agent
who, speaking anonymously, said, 

can`t get a coyote to transport them and they are
offering $30,000 per person with no takers. What kind of
Yemeni group has $270,000 to pay a low-life 20-year-old
border vulture to lead them into the United States?”

Al-Quaida`s sleeper cell in Phoenix,
operatives prepared the 9-11 attack for nine years,
obviously had plenty of money, in addition to American
rights—and the hatred they had for these. 

The question is how much longer the
U.S. can count on patriots like John Petrello – and
whether it deserves him.

Williamson Jr.

is the author of The
Immigration Mystique: America`s False Conscience

and an editor and columnist for Chronicles
Magazine, where he writes the The Hundredth Meridian
column about life in the Rocky Mountain West.

November 09, 2001