Last week Esteban was collapsed in the shade of a mesquite bush along the highway 21 miles north of one of the more corrupt, fraudulent borders in a U.S. history not lacking for these (In 1853, Mexican President Antonio de Santa Anna had the Spanish language newspapers from New York that reported the deal swiped off the streets so that Mexicans wouldn't learn of the negotiations, or the kickbacks he'd receive.)
The first Border Patrol truck whizzed by. Esteban had been vomiting food, then water, then blood. He wanted to be caught. The next car was civilian. Esteban, 5'3", struggled to wave them down but they drove by. Shortly after that the border patrol returned and he flagged them down. When they saw him retching blood after drinking from the water bottle they gave him, they called for assistance and soon he had an IV in his arm.
Border patrol drove him to Tucson. A few days later he was back in [town omitted to protect Esteban], talking to me on a cell phone, the first time I'd heard his voice since he was deported in July, I think. I lose track. Esteban's been deported so many times even he loses track.
Here's a slightly edited transcript of our conversation. (Esteban's so close to the border that Verizon thinks he is in the U.S. and his Tucson phone card works.) We spoke Monday, September 23, the same day I read the AP story on all the deaths in the desert from people crossing in Texas instead of Arizona. But of course it's still very easy to die in the deserts of Arizona as well.
JS: Where are you?
ET: , Sonora on top of this mountain so I can get this line. Otherwise I can't hear.
JS: How long does it take for you to go up the mountain?
ET: Just four minutes. It's a small mountain.
JS: What do you see?
ET: The border. I'm right here on a little mountain and I can see the border on the other side. Just the border, just a little border on . The line is right there, some bushes and a metal fence. It's big, about 30 feet tall.
JS: Where are you staying?
ET: I'm staying w. these people right now. Not the people I was staying with before. There are no jobs right here. This is a little town. They don't have no business. Just five little stores. No business, no nothing.
JS: How did you end up with that family?
ET: Because I don't have nowhere to go. I don't have money to go somewhere else. They know me. They know my family. My brother's helping them. My brother he works roofing and sometimes he don't work. Roofing they just work two times a week.
JS: Why did you cross last week?
ET: I was always looking,looking for somebody else, to see who wants to cross with me. Someone told me there's another guy who wants to leave. He told me, "I want to leave but I don't have money to buy food. We need to buy food for three days." I told him, "I'll buy the food and you just go with me."
JS: Why this guy?
ET: First, I saw these other guys. They said, "If you want to go to other side, put a bundle [of marijuana] on you back and we will take you back." I don't want to get in trouble. I don't want none of that. Then I would be in jail. See what happened last time? [Esteban was charged with drug smuggling and found not guilty.] I don't want to be passing through the same thing. I don't want to risk my life again.
JS: Who was the guy you crossed with?
ET: I don't know, an old man, 55 years old. He was in United States and was deported and was living in MX. He was in the US for 15 years. [He was deported] for drinking. He was living in Eloy. He was driving and got a DUI.
JS: Could you cross and just follow the smugglers without carrying anything? ET: They used to let you, but not no more. They don't let people cross no more. They don't want illegal people crossing right here. The only people they let cross right here is if you're born here. [Esteban was born in ; his father, Jesus, was born in Arizona and had an Arizona birth certificate, and was married to Esteban's mother, which is why the jury in 2008 found him Not Guilty of Illegal Reentry.] They [the smugglers] are working all the time. I ask them, "When can I cross, I'm from ? They give you a day, "We're not going to work that day." They used to charge $300 but right now I didn't pay nothing.
JS: What do they use when they cross? Trucks? Cars?
ET: When they're going to cross bundles it's just people. And then people with binoculars to see the other side. Radios walkie talkies and everything.
JS: What food did you buy?
ET: Little cans of sausage, tuna, some tortillas, a lot of chips, little things, juices.
JS: What did you use to carry things?
ET: A backpack like the kind you use from school.
JS: What time did you leave?
ET: We jumped the border at 8 a.m.
JS: How did you know where to go? How did you go over the fence?
ET: Some people told us that you can cross by yourself. If you walk all the way to mountain, there's no fence no more, just a mountain. I want to go back with my family and I don't have money for coyote and I don't want to carry bundles. People said, go this mountain and go straight toward another mountain and stay between the roads and that will take you to Tucson.
JS: Did you sleep at night?
ET: We just walk in the day and sleep in the night. And when we start walking on mile 18 the border patrol starts following but they didn't catch up. We lost them. From there they saw us again and they was waiting for us on the road. We went to sleep right there, so they got tired waiting for us. Then in the morning at 6 a.m. we start walking. And that night I start feeling sick, start throwing up a lot. I drink the water and I'm throwing that up, and then in the desert you can die
JS: Why do you think you had this problem and not the guy you were with?
ET: I think I was locked up for 15 months with no sun [fighting his deportation] and so when the sun hits me, it hits me bad. That's what I think. JS: What was it like with the other guy when he decided to leave you?
ET: He told me, "Now I'm going to leave you in the desert, good luck. I need to keep walking because if I stay here border patrol is going to get me for reentry and I don't want to do time for reentry. So i'm going to leave you."
JS: What did you say?
ET: I told him, "I'm going to give you a couple cans, but leave me a little water so I can get to the road." He said alright. In the morning we came out to cross the JS: How long were you waiting before you saw the Border Patrol?
ET: About a half hour. I was on the side of the road, sitting under under the mesquite right there and then Border Patrol passes and didn't see me and another car passed and I ask them for a ride and they just keep going and i think they told [Border Patrol]. And they pass again. I was sitting right under the mesquite. They asked me, "You haven't drunk water for how long? I told them we finished our water and we drank where the cows drink water. That's where we got water, and I just got that dirty water. [Border Patrol] gives me water and I just start throwing up. "You're sick, I'm calling medical," the guy said. Another Border Patrol got there and gave me the things in Tucson. They were saying "Oh, how did you get out? You was doing 75 years." I never got no sentence for 75 years. "Yeah, you got 75 years. how did you got out?" I told them I walked away from a work furlough,and got 7.5 months. "On the paper the court put 'years.' How did you get out? You had sentence for 75 years." So that scared me, too. And then they said we're going to get you for Reentry. We're going to take you to CCA Florence to see the judge. I said, let me talk to my attorney. they said, we can't let you. I said I wanted to talk to the Mexican consulate. They called Jesse [Smith], Esteban's terrific defense attorney for the 2008 case] and the third day they released me. I think they saw in the computer that i beat that case.
JS: Did they give you any paperwork when they released you?
ET: They didn't give me nothing. I just signed one page. They gave me no copy.Tonight Esteban sent me a text. He is going to try again. As soon as possible. As soon as he finds someone else to cross with him.