U.S. border town fears influx of troops
When news emerged of President Bush's plan to use thousands of National Guard troops to secure the U.S. border with Mexico, my thoughts turned to Redford, Texas, a tiny town of about 100 residents along the Rio Grande. Nine years ago, this far-flung border town changed the way the United States protects its borders.
On May 20, 1997, Esequiel Hernandez Jr., 18, was herding his goats just a few hundred yards from his Redford home. He was carrying an antique rifle, a little firepower to protect his goats from coyotes.
What happened that day has been disputed by Hernandez's family, the U.S. Marines and the Border Patrol, but what is known is that four Marines were helping local authorities track drug runners.
The Marines were hiding in the low-lying brush in camouflage. They say Hernandez fired at them first, so they started tracking him through the rugged terrain, thinking he was a drug smuggler. Everyone agrees they were nearly 200 yards away. At that distance, says Margarito Hernandez, Esequiel's brother, he could not have known what he was shooting at, if he did shoot first.
A short time later, Hernandez was shot and killed by one of the Marines. The shooting sparked such intense controversy that the special task force of U.S. troops helping fight drug smugglers was pulled out of the border region. The Marines were cleared of wrongdoing, but the federal government paid the family almost $2 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
Today, a humble white cross sits on the hilltop marking the spot where Hernandez was shot and killed. His family still lives in Redford. The idea of bringing the military back to the border has them nervous.
"Somebody else is going to get hurt. Some other parents are going to suffer the loss of a loved one," said Margarito Hernandez, as he walked me along the final path his brother took the day he was killed. "It's important for them to remember what happened to my brother."
Many residents of this border town repeated a common theme to us -- basically, "border culture" and "military culture" just don't mix. They say National Guard troops won't be trained well enough to understand the idiosyncrasies of border life. What do they mean by idiosyncrasies?
For the people who live here, there really isn't much of a border. Many families have loved ones on both sides of the border; the people look the same on both sides; they speak the same way; and they share the same culture. Residents here worry soldiers won't be able to tell the difference between who's breaking the law, and who's not.