History of Smuggling

by: Patrick Skelly

The history of smuggling the United States-Mexico border region has been a very dangerous and violent one. Soon after the Mexican-American war the border that separates the two countries was created. The creation of the border occurred directly after the Gadsden Purchase on December 30, 1853. With this purchase the United States gained approximately 30,000 square

miles of modern day New Mexico and Arizona.[1] This wasn’t exactly when the major problems sprung up in the border region, as it had been in the centuries before the conflict between the United States and Mexico. The Southwest was a very fruitful area that was used by many U.S. and Mexican citizens for the vast mining, and other rare natural resources available. Also, Mexican labor became a very popular idea as the United States enacted the Chinese Exclusion act.[2] As the United Sates closed the borders to the Chinese and other Asian immigrants the demand for Mexican labor in the developing west became incredibly high. This was the system of labor that occurred for a sustained amount of time in the region. During the mid twentieth century, soon after World War II, the United States government made a push to create a more secure border in the southwestern part of the country. This had a lot to do with concerns of the rise of communism and the cold war that was getting into full swing. In the mid-1990s, America began its “war on drugs” and curbed illegal immigration along the M

exican-American border cities.[3] As the border became more heavily monitored and the immigration policies began to tighten a trend of two different forms of smuggling began, human smuggling and drug smuggling. Human smuggling began because of the difficulties required to enter the United States as a Mexican citizen. Drug smuggling began as America’s war of drugs began and the demand rose in the United States. Both of these forms of smuggling have became a problem within Organ Pipe National Monument.

Organ Pipe National Monument stands on the forefront of a growing problem. Large amounts of human smuggling as well as an incredible amount of illegal drug smuggling and trafficking occur daily within the monument. The park really began to come under fire when the El Paso and San Diego borders began to increase their security. The Border Patrol Agents began their crack down on drug smuggling as well as illegal immigration. This was a big reason why the behaviors of human smugglers and drug smugglers began to change. As the security grew larger in those areas immigrants and drug smugglers began to push into the Sonoran/Arizona desert to cross international lines. The new popularity of the international border within Organ Pipe with smuggling traffic presents a huge problem on multiple fronts. These smugglers often place visitors and park rangers in danger. Also the smugglers put themselves in danger by traveling across a severe desert terrain on foot, usually without proper nourishment or hydration. One of the tragic stories of the park is the story of Park Ranger Kris Eggle who was murdered in pursuit of drug smugglers.[4] The drug smugglers took violent action because they did not want to be detained, and as a result a very respected park ranger lost his life. This story still serves as an example as to how dangerous complications of smuggling can be. Another tragic story involves a little El Salvadoran girl named Josseline, who died on the long journey through the desert inside of Organ Pipe.[5] Josseline traveled through Organ Pipe with her brother in hopes of reuniting with her mother. Josseline fell behind and could not catch up. She died due to lack of hydration and nourishment. The rangers and visitors have to deal with these incredibly difficult problems on a frequent basis. The park has gained a reputation as “America’s Most Dangerous Park”[6] because of these tragedies.

Smuggling has very rapidly become one of the biggest problems for this extremely delicate park. The wildlife being affected within Organ Pipe presents another area of concern. Litter from the immigrants and trucks driven by the drug smugglers have hurt the environment and began to endanger multiple species that live within the park. Massive amounts of litter have also contributed to the endangerment of many species.

Almost all of these problems inside the park have to do with the construction and the maintenance of the border. If a more pro-active action plan were implemented, many of these problems would disappear. As death tolls begin to rise and smuggling begins to increase the park will be left with a tough decision to make, how to handle these problems that only seem to be getting worse. Rangers and managers of the park will have to continue to keep this issue on their minds. They will continue to push for a resolution that will bring this park back to what it once was, a very secluded, delicate, and beautiful national monuement.


[1] “December 30, 1853: The Southern US Border Established,” http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/southern-us-border-established (Accessed March 29, 2012).

[2] Zolberg, Aristide, Border Battles The U.S. Immigration Debates, “A Century of Informality on the United States-Mexico Border,” http://borderbattles.ssrc.org/Zolberg/index.html (Accessed March 31, 2012)

[3] Nielsen, Chris, “Illegal Immigrants Bring Problems to Border Parks,” University of Miami, School of Communication, May 5, 2008.

[4] Clynes, Tom. “National Park War Zone: Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.” National Geographic Adventure Magazine, February 2003.

[5] Regan, Margaret, The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010).

[6] Clynes, Tom. “National Park War Zone: Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.” National Geographic Adventure Magazine, February 2003.

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