Last year over a million immigrants were smuggled across the US/ Mexican border and this year the numbers are rising sharply. In the last two months alone it's reported that four hundred thousand "aliens" were smuggled across the border, often they're trafficked by ruthless gangs.
More4 News has travelled to the hot deserts of Arizona to film with the so-called "minutemen" - the groups of American volunteers who run their own patrols on the 2000 long border. Often these self-appointed "guardians" are ex-military - many Vietnam Vets - it's a fascinating and provocative story. This is what our camerman/director Iain Overton has seen so far. It should be an interesting film!
We spotted the Mexicans 500 metres away. From the air, seeing them was easy. Their dark clothes stood out in the ochre Arizonan desert like wine spots on a tablecloth.
Our pilot, Glenn Spencer, manoeuvred his small plane with ease, 30 years of flying experience coming to bear as we made tighter and tighter swoops over their huddled bodies. The photographer laughed and squeezed off some more shots.
I was flying with the American Border Patrol, a not-for profit organisation set up to reveal to the American public how many Mexicans are crossing over the Mexican-US border as illegal immigrants. Their message to Washington is stark: if this tide of immigrants, which they estimate to be as much as 1.2 million last year alone, is not stopped, then national security will be compromised.
As one of them put it: "September 12th is just around the corner."
The American Border Patrolmen, with their high-tech equipment and infa-red cameras, seek to persuade Congress into passing tighter measures to prevent the nightly-run of Mexicans heading for the States. They deny their motives are racially motivated. Instead they quote Cicero and their right to self-protection.
Or, more sinisterly, they suggest the US government, big business and the Catholic church are all involved in a plot to allow more and more Mexicans into the US for their own short-term financial gain. They bring up Plato and say the American public are being told nothing is wrong, but feed them a diet of lies about the situation: as if they were men in a cave, allowed only to watch the shadows dancing on the wall.
But two things went through my mind as we circled over these huddled shapes for the fourth time. First, how human-less these figures far below us seemed, and how distant their dry-mouthed fear was to us, as we shot past again and again.
And second, how what was being done to these immigrants, with their desperation photographed close-up by the Border Patrol, and their humanity stripped bare as we watched them clutch the dust as we swooped low, was so worrying. For what was being done to these undesirables, these aliens - crouching in the desert terrified of the white plane above their heads
- could so easily happen tomorrow to any of us if the wrong government got into power.
The fact that such things are tolerated (and I stress the word tolerated - I would defend the American Patrols the right to what they do) in the US, to me only makes future eye-in-the-sky type actions against its own citizens that much more possible.
For who here will stop the people, if other terrorist attacks occur on US soil, from taking more and more repressive measures against immigrants and its own citizens? And who is there to speak out if this society shifts gradually from one that embraces openness and tolerance and accountability, towards one where dehumanisation, suspicion and intolerance dominate?
Read the second part of the travelogue here.