It’s 6:00 a.m. and Glenn Spencer is testing the aileron
flap on his Cessna 206, dubbed “the border hawk.”
Spencer is preparing to fly over the Arizona-Mexico border,
eyeing the desert floor looking for “illegals” and
broadcasting a live video feed over the Internet. He says
we are being invaded.
Where Spencer sees invaders, 22-year-old Maryada
Vallet sees hungry and nearly dying mothers, children
and fathers pursuing the American Dream. She walks
past a Nissan Pathfinder known as “the desert rat,”. deciding instead to load up a white Isuzu
SUV as she prepares for her Samaritan
patrol. Vallet, a well-spoken, White girl
from Peoria, will spend the rest of her
morning distributing food, water and
medical aid to blister-footed illegal immigrants
traipsing the trash-lined wilderness
between the Mexican border and Tucson.
Her mission has provided her with a
close-up glimpse into the horror faced by
many of those unprepared for the arduous
trek. She has seen the oil spots left by bodies
of migrants who have paid the ultimate
price. She has endured the smells of decaying
bodies left in the wake of miles-long
hikes. Mothers and children are dying.
By the time Spencer taxis his Cessna
onto the runway and Vallet pulls her
squeaking Isuzu onto a rocky trail,
Arizona rancher John King has been
herding cattle and checking water tanks
for several hours. His family has owned
the King’s-Anvil Ranch since the early
1890s. He never used to find bodies on his
property. Six were found last summer
alone. He calls Border Patrol daily to
come detain alien trespassers or to pick up
their bodies. They just keep coming.
Mothers. Children. Drug smugglers.
As Homeland Security and Border
Patrol attempt to seal off major border cities
and crossing points, more illegal immigrants
are risking their lives on this desert
journey. It is well known that coyote guides
who charge immigrants thousands of dollars
often leave women, children and the
injured to die in the desert. It is an economic
exodus, a deathtrap, and according to
Governor Napolitano, a state of emergency.
As federal and state governments
scramble to plug a leaky border and
address the more than 12 million undocumented
workers, Arizona residents are
patrolling the desert with conflicting
goals. Some carry guns. Others carry
water and first aid kits. Some track the
immigrants. Some feed and clothe them.
Law-filled Anarchy in the Wild West
In the month of July 2005 the relentless
desert heat claimed the lives of 78
immigrants in Tucson’s Border Patrol
sector alone. The medical examiner rented
a semi-trailer equipped with a freezer
to hold the bodies. All tolled, 460 immigrants
baked to death in these barren corridors last year, enough to fill about
On the morning of July 9, 2005, Emil
Hidalgo-Soliz wandered north, he
thought, toward Tucson, his sanity consumed
by the 110-degree desert heat. The
bacteria in the cattle tank water he’d
drank caused eruptions in his alreadydehydrated
stomach. Walking on burst
blisters the size of baseballs, his body had
become a stark shadow of itself just days
before when he optimistically embarked
on his impossible journey.
Soliz was throwing up when No More
Deaths volunteers Shanti Sellz and Daniel
Strauss helped him into the backseat of a
Subaru station wagon. He and two others
were near death.
Sellz, 23, had spent the previous day
searching the desert for the remains of an
abandoned immigrant mother. She found
two other bodies during her search. The
reality of death fresh in her mind, upon
seeing Soliz, Sellz didn’t hesitate. Soon
she and Strauss were driving with three
illegal immigrants in the backseat, red
Samaritan signs fastened to the side of
the Subaru as it sped down dusty roads.
Minutes later, Strauss and Sellz were
arrested by Border Patrol for abetting the
illegal crossers. The two, both college
students, spent the night in a holding
facility before moving to a federal
prison. They’re now being charged with
conspiracy and aiding illegal activity,
federal crimes with a maximum sentence
of 15 years.
Humanitarian activists aren’t the only
Arizona residents who’ve run into the law
while dealing with illegal border crossers.
Ranch Rescue vigilante Casey
Nethercott recently lost his 70-acre
Douglas, Arizona, ranch after two illegal
immigrants sued him for abuse.
Nethercott had detained the two men
while on a ranch patrol and ignored their
lawsuit. The judge ruled in the immigrants’
favor, handing Nethercott’s property
over as payment for damages.
King’s-Anvil Rancher Pat King is
concerned that Americans aren’t allowed
to properly guard their private property on
these wild desert plains.
“We all say all these things about how
terribly the U.S. is treating these people,”
King says. “This is my country, and I love
my country, but my country sadly has no
respect for me.”
King deals daily with knifed cattle
tank lines, hundreds of pounds of trash on
her property and fear of leaving her home
“On April 15, if our income taxes
aren’t in, somebody is toting up the penalties
and interest we have to pay,” King
says. “But on April 16, we’re in a noman’s
land here. Laws are to prevent
chaos. Within 50 miles of the border, from
San Diego to Brownsville Texas, we have
chaos. We have a landfill and a lawlessness
that defies description.”
The Humanitarian Activist
Driving the same Samaritan patrol
that landed Strauss and Sellz in a federal
prison, Maryada Vallet, an Azusa
Pacific graduate, navigates the No More
Deaths SUV onto a rocky trail. Last
weekend Border Patrol found four
migrants dead from hypothermia after a
40-degree desert rain.
Vallet will come with blankets and
food, whether it’s legal or not. She parks
near three light blue, undamaged water
tanks and finds them half-empty. She
often finds the tanks intentionally vandalized,
the 20-foot signal flags bent to
the ground. Nothing but desert and
mountains lie between her and the faraway
Immigrants travel under the cover of
night and rest during the day. Vallet and
No More Deaths volunteers come by
day shouting, “food, water, medical
aid.” The night is too dangerous. Guns.
Robberies. Murders. The dark veil of the
Vallet sings a Spanish offer for help,
making her way down a trash-lined trail
that strings through blonde desert grass,
barbed cholla cacti and green-limbed
palo verde trees. “We are not here to
hurt you. We are with a church. We have
food and water,” she says.
Vallet and No More Deaths volunteers
don’t call Border Patrol when they
find migrants. “If they don’t want us to,
we respect that. Calling Border Patrol is
not our job,” Vallet says. “We must
remain neutral like any human aid
Arizona Director of Minutemen volunteer
Stacey O’Connell disagrees.
“I’ve seen the families come across with
infants and toddlers,” O’Connell says. “I
commend (No More Deaths) for giving
food and water, but what I don’t see
them doing, more times than not, is not
contacting the proper authorities. So the
issue is their final intent.”
O’Connell adds that Minutemen also
hand out food and water. “On the other
hand, the Minutemen call the Border
Patrol,” he says.
Back in the desert, Samaritan
patroller Vallet stops between emptied
Red Bull energy drink cans and a stack
of hollow water bottles.
For Vallet, these are not roads and
trails; they are Alejandro and Oscar, stories
of south Mexican coffee and corn
farmers who had no idea the desert was
so vast and so dry.
“I found one woman sitting under a
tree,” Vallet says. “She was my age
exactly, 22. She had two kids, a threeand
a five-year-old, who had medical
conditions. She hoped to work here and
send money back.”
Like many whose legs find cactuses
or ledges in the night, the woman had
fallen amid a dark, frantic rush. Her
group didn’t stop. She was baked too dry to cry anymore when Vallet found
her. Like nearly every day of last summer,
Vallet used a satellite phone to call
a doctor and a nurse. She described the
woman’s condition and symptoms,
answered questions and administered
Vallet doesn’t know exactly how
many immigrants she has driven to
emergency rooms and clinics, but the
blue-eyed, light-haired Peoria native
knows she has spent hours at their bedsides.
They were certain to die if left in
the desert. Vallet stays with them in
emergency rooms through the night.
The National Security Activist
From 500 feet, the desert floor doesn’t
look nearly so cruel. Gazing out the
window of Glenn Spencer’s “border
hawk” Cessna, it looks more like a soft
tan canvas than a rock wilderness of
sand, cacti, snakes and scorpions.
Spencer, who resembles Christopher
Walken in his early 60’s, also looks a bit
like General Norman Schwarzkopf
when he pulls his army-style cap down
low on his brow. He pilots the plane and
speaks through an aviation headset to
Mike King, a former National Guard
sniper now aiming a digital video camera
out the side of the plane.
Spencer and King make Minutemen
volunteers look like boy scouts. Where
Minutemen tote guns and radios, trying
to plug the bulging dike of illegal immigration,
Spencer flies his “border hawk”
hundreds of feet above, spotting illegal
intruders and reporting them to U.S.
“Ninety-nine percent of the border is
just barbed wire,” King says. The
Arizona-Mexico border reflects off the
black face-visor of his Air force helmet
as he leans, camera in hand, out the side
of the plane.
“Every time we fly, they’re here,”
King adds. “Wait. That’s one. I’ve got
two walking on the road. Border Patrol
must have scared them back last night.”
“Got em?” Spencer asks.
“OK,” King confirms. OK means
King successfully zoomed the camera
on the two men walking along Border
Road. The image was sent live to the
American Border Patrol headquarters,
where other volunteers contact the U.S.
Border Patrol with the coordinates and
broadcast the video on American Border
Patrol’s Web site.
“There’s the Humane Borders’ 50
gallon water jugs,” King says of the
same style light blue barrels Vallet had
parked the Samaritan SUV near.
“They’re aiding criminal activity,” King
adds of humanitarian aid groups like No
“I have photos of smugglers using
the water canteens,” Spencer says.
“Since they put the water stations out,
the number of deaths has gone up.”
Spencer’s personal vendetta with
the border began about 15 years ago,
during the L.A. riots. “I watched my
old neighborhood trashed, burned,
vandalized. Watch the videos. Most rioters weren’t black. They were
Hispanic illegals,” he says. That,
Spencer says, is when he realized
California had been invaded during his
lifetime. He worries that the entire
U.S. will be conquered.
“In 35 years, L.A. went from the finest
schools to the bottom of the rankings.
Healthcare, hospitals, traffic, everything
has suffered. If you want to have the rest
of the U.S. like southern California and
L.A., keep it up,” Spencer says.
In July of 2004, Spencer and his
volunteers made their point by smuggling
a fake “Weapon of Mass
Destruction” in a backpack across the
Arizona border. To Spencer, the border
is not about farmhands, landscapers
and dishwashers. It’s about national
Spencer pilots the “border hawk”
west to a small huddle of shacks on the
Mexico side of the border. “The
Tijuana taxi vans drop off at these
shacks,” he says. “Then the migrants
walk to the mountains. It’s so overt.
They arrive with 15 passenger vans on
“I’ve got a group,” King announces.
“Oh yeah, that’s a big one, about twoo’clock.
There’s a good 10 or 15.
They’re lying down, trying to hide.”
King chuckles in self-satisfaction as
the ant-sized migrants take to the ground
at the sound of the plane. Spencer banks
a tight turn, setting the plane almost on
its side so King can aim his camera
directly down at the 10 or so migrants
now squirming under a cluster of trees
in a wash.
“The funny thing, when they lay
down, they make themselves bigger targets,”
To Spencer and King, these are not
job-seeking underprivileged fathers
huddled under blankets with water
bottles and backpacks. These are soldiers,
conquistadors out to claim what they think is rightly their Mexican
“Every night 3,000 come across
our border,” Spencer says as he turns
the plane toward the airport. In 15
minutes he and King have spotted and
videoed three immigrant groups crossing
Another Night, Another Day
Hours later, as shadows begin covering
the Arizona desert, dehydrated
migrants start taking to the trails. At
their two-bedroom Tucson rental,
Samaritans Shanti Sellz and Maryada
Vallet prepare for another day patrolling
with first aid, food and water.
Awaiting her federal trial for conspiracy
and aiding illegal activity, Sellz
still drives Samaritan patrols, and when
she finds nearly-dead immigrants, she
still takes them to a clinic. “I feel this
work is extremely necessary, and I’m
not going to stop,” Sellz says.
Miles away and only 1,000 feet
from the border, Glenn Spencer is sitting
at his computer command center,
updating his Web site and posting an
article about 20,000 Latino protestors
who took to the streets in Phoenix. He’s
also happy to report that American
Border Patrol has secured an infrared
camera that can detect border invaders
from an altitude of 25,000 feet. Night
patrolling is now possible.
Back at the King’s-Anvil Ranch, Pat
and John King are just lying down after
another long day of ranch work. The
dogs are barking, and that’s perfectly
normal. They hear someone walking
across the front yard.