Saturday, March 27, 2010, Robert Krentz was out checking fences and water lines on the 35,000-acre ranch his family has worked since 1907.
Somewhere out there in the dusty Arizona desert, he ran into a trespasser.
Who, exactly, he encountered on that morning is still unknown.
Sometime between 10:00 and 10:30, Krentz radioed his brother and said he had spotted an illegal immigrant and was going to check out the situation. That was the last anybody heard from Rob Krentz.
Krentz was a big, florid man, a real western cattle rancher. The kind of character John Wayne would have played in Chisholm or McClintok! He was widely known as a good Samaritan and a hell of a decent person. He offered water and help to illegals in need – but he was also known to call the border patrol when necessary too. Unfortunately for Robert Krentz, that generous nature is probably what got him killed on that fateful Saturday morning.
Krentz was found slumped over the saddle of his still idling ATV, shot dead with a 9mm handgun. His dog, also shot with the same weapon, lay dying at his side. Krentz had been armed with a pistol and a rifle, both were found untouched in their holsters on the ATV. Krentz never had a chance, he was probably shot the minute he put down his phone.
There were tracks made by a single individual in the dust nearby the murder scene, no doubt the killer’s, leading south. Law enforcement officers followed those tracks for almost twenty miles across the border into Mexico, where the trail went cold.
And so it stands.
Who did Robert Krentz encounter out there in the desert? Was it a “coyote,” one of the ruthless criminals who traffic in the human trade across the Mexican/American border, guiding groups of illegal immigrants and criminals and smugglers across the desert? The murderer appears to be a single individual and travelling alone on foot, perhaps a coyote returning home. Or was it a drug smuggler? Or some garden variety criminal? Homes and ranch buildings in the area are routinely robbed by criminals operating across the border – and in fact a nearby home had been robbed of a 9mm pistol and other weapons the day before Krentz’s murder (although it is currently undermined if that weapon was the one used to kill Krentz). Or was it something more sinister? Terrorists? Spies? Or maybe just something sad and pitiful, some illegal alien alone, lost, and scared who made a terrible mistake out of fear (this is unlikely given the circumstances, Krentz appears to have been deliberately shot with malice aforethought). Unless Mexican authorities catch the murderer, or he returns to the States and is caught, or somebody turns state’s evidence, it is highly unlikely that the unknown assailant will ever be brought to justice – and the reason for this senseless murder will remain unknown.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Hell, it’s been going on for well over a century and harkens back to the lawless Old West of legend, just like those aforementioned John Wayne movies, when Comancharo raiding parties and criminal gangs and unreconstructed Confederates terrorized the Frontier and then sought refuge beneath the Mexican border hotly pursued by the steely eyed rangers and their posses.
Now, from a distance, the situation in the Southwestern desert while obviously dangerous can appear, perhaps, romantic and even adventurous. Conservatives see it as a national security issue, but liberals tend to see it as a human rights issue. In the United States while there is no doubt a significant degree of hostility towards immigrants, legal or otherwise, there is also a certain degree of sympathy as well, for those coming across the border seeking a better life for themselves and their children – after all many of our own ancestors were immigrants who came seeking a better life in the United States (though it must be said that many of them were legal immigrants, some welcome, some less so – like my own Dutch and Irish ancestors). And it’s not exactly a secret that a rather large number of businesses welcome the pool of cheap and disposable labor that sneaks across the our porous southern border. To be perfectly honest, if it wasn’t for cheap illegal labor, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas would probably shut down. I suspect the grass would be ten feet tall, because nobody in any of those states owns a lawn mower or knows how to operate one – and why should they when they can hire a team of ten illegals to landscape their yards for $50 a month? Who would operate the restaurants? Or wash the clothes? Or pick the fruit and vegetables in the San Joaquin Valley for something far less than the minimum wage, with no representation and no benefits of any kind? Since a significant fraction of our yearly produce comes from central California, every single American benefits from cheap labor there. And while the money these folks earn is often less than a living wage in the US, it’s a small fortune in Mexico, and Ecuador, and Columbia and so the illegals come to America risking all and they will continue to do so, no matter what. And speaking of fortunes, in this case large fortunes, there are the drugs. More than you can ever imagine and fortunes beyond measure. It’s easy to rationalize the drug trade as a victimless crime – or at least a crime where the victims bring their own bloody demise upon themselves. A rather large number of Americans enthusiastically welcome the smugglers who cross the desert into the US every day – and they couldn’t care less about human toll so long as they’ve got something snort up their noses on Friday night. And as long as Americans demand illicit drugs, the mules and smugglers and criminals will supply it across the border. Period. It cannot be stopped.
For a rather large number of reasons, mostly having to do with money in one form or another, many Americans prefer to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in the Southwest. A hell of a lot of Americans talk about the stopping the flow of illegals into and out of the United States, but the truth of the matter is that stopping the flow is the last thing they want. When we talk about immigration reform, what we really want is to find a way to keep the cheap labor and the flow of drugs, without having large populations of illegals living in our cities and sucking up our resources. A hell of a lot of Americans seem to think that the ideal immigration reform policy would be something where illegals quietly show up (say by teleportation so we don’t have to see them arriving), pick the lettuce and mow the grass and paint the house and make the Chinese food and give the special massages, get a couple bucks in cash, and then vamanos their little brown asses back across the border until we need them again. Out of sight and out of mind and not in our schools or hospitals or our neighborhoods or our prisons and sure as hell not killing our ranchers.
It should be obvious that this is an impossible goal – and yet that is exactly the situation we’ve tried to live with since WWII and the Bracero program – which persisted into the 1960’s and consisted of little more than “legalized slavery” according to the Labor Department.
The cost of this contradictory policy is out there in the desert right now. It’s everywhere in Southern California, in Arizona, in New Mexico, and Texas. And it’s damned easy for a lot of Americans to forget that the folks who live in those places, people like Rob Krentz and his family, have to live and die with the consequences. The cost is in lives, ours and theirs – remind me to tell you about the time I saw an illegal get hit by a truck while trying to slip across US5 in the dark, in south San Diego, and then get hit by a least two dozen more vehicles after his body was flung into the middle of the highway - until there was nothing but bloody chunks and small gobs of red meat and nothing recognizably human spread for over a hundred yards down four lanes of highway like a drum of tomato sauce had exploded. Remind me to tell you about the boatloads of Ecuadorians I encountered on the seas off Baja and Central America, hundreds of people crammed onto small fishing boats designed to hold no more than ten crew, no food, no water, no sanitation, covered in flies and filth and desperation.
The cost of this situation is murder, and death, and vigilantism. It’s crime and theft and terror.
Americans who live in the border states are sick and tired of it. They’ve lived with the situation for decades, and it’s growing worse every day. Sure they benefit from cheap illegal labor along with the rest of the country – but they bear the full burden of the consequences, and some like Rob Krentz pay the ultimate price.
The situation is unsustainable – and murder of a prominent rancher on his own land in southern Arizona was a flashpoint.
The recent immigration law passed in Arizona was inevitable.
Opponents of the new law are calling it racist, they say it will lead to rampant racial profiling and turn Arizona into a police state. I think there’s equal measure truth and hysteria to that idea.
When it comes to race, well obviously, the law will lead to racial profiling. Duh. It will, most certainly, it’s impossible that it won’t. This law isn’t aimed at illegal Asian immigrants, or illegal Eastern European immigrants, or Canadian actors, or Saudis whose work Visa’s have expired – though technically it could be used in all of those cases – it’s aimed squarely at Hispanics. You know it, I know it, and so does everybody else. It is race (or nationality) specific to a great extent and it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise. You get pulled over and you’ve got brown skin and a Spanish accent it’s a pretty damned good bet that you’re going to have to provide proof of residency. It’s also a pretty damned good bet that some law enforcement agents are going to abuse this power, sooner, later, but certainly. Anybody who doesn’t think so hasn’t been paying attention. This is especially true since law enforcement can be held accountable under penalty of law for not checking. When in doubt, check.
As to a police state, well, yes there are certainly overtones of “papers, please” (said in an ominously bone chilling Nazi accent) to this law – there is no way that there could not be. Potentially, any citizen who cannot produce proof of residency could be jailed or even deported. If the law and regulation doesn’t clearly spell out what proof law enforcement is required to accept (and I don’t know that it doesn’t, but I couldn’t find such criteria specifically called out anywhere in the law) – then acceptance of proof of citizenship becomes arbitrary and subject to abuse. And it will be abused, it’s inevitable. Remind me to tell you about the time a Navy shipmate of mind was arrested in Texas for being of Puerto Rican extraction. It was a comedy of errors, except nobody was laughing. No lawman in Texas seemed to know or believe that Puerto Rico is part of the US, nor would anybody believe that my friend could possibly be not Mexican, he was jailed, turned over to INS, and threatened with deportation to Mexico – despite the fact that he had US Military ID, a New York driver’s license, a valid SSN, and could provide military contact numbers for verification. A number of folks rightly fear that they will end up in similar circumstance because of their accent or skin color or last name. I think they are absolutely right to fear such things, I think they would be foolish not to. I think white people who somehow think they will never be subject to the burden of proof themselves are even more foolish.
What hits me though is this: in a deeply conservative state like Arizona, this law seems contrary to the patriotic ideals of the Right and more like something you’d find in the Soviet Union of days gone by – and yet I understand and sympathize with the frustration that drove this law into being in the first place. Something has to be done, and frankly this law has got to be better than having a bunch of drunken rednecks with rifles shooting at people attempting to cross the border or ranchers murdered on their own property.
The President called the law misguided.
I think he’s wrong – or at least not entirely right.
Honestly, I’m more than a bit conflicted on this subject. While I think the potential for abuse and human rights violations is enormous, I also think that something must be done to stem the tide of illegals flowing across our borders. I understand the impetus behind this law, even if I don’t entirely agree with its implementation.
The backlash, of course, is widespread. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) requested that the federal government not cooperate with local law enforcement by having INS refuse to accept illegal immigrants identified under the new law. This is idiotic. Until, and if, the new law is struck down by the courts it is the law in Arizona. Illegal aliens, who by definition are breaking the law, are subject to that law – including federal law. If they are identified and detained under the Arizona law, then they should be turned over to INS for processing. Period.
However it shakes out, I doubt the new law will do much to stop illegal immigration.
If my experience in counter narcotics is any example, as long as there is a demand north of the border, the supply from south of the border will remain undiminished.
But I’ll tell you this, ultimately the responsibility for Robert Krentz’s death lies at the feet of every single American who hires illegal labor – be they large corporate farms, or seedy manufacturers, or those folks looking for a gardener. Responsibility also belongs to those who benefit from illegal labor – including those low prices you pay for goods manufactured by undocumented labor here in the good old US, to those authentic tacos you get from the drive up window, or those who make money off housing and supply to illegal immigrants. And so too are all those Americans responsible who buy a little nose candy to help themselves get through the week and see no harm in it.
I detest the law that Arizona just passed, but I understand why it exits.
And if it finally forces the nation to confront the issue head-on instead of keeping it out of sight and out of mind, well then it will be a good thing.