In search of hope along the U.S.-Mexico border

A family mourns the loss of a husband, father, son

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

Julani Arsiniega talks with Father Gilbert Malu of the Church of the Immaculate Conception during their annual "Fiesta del Sol" in Douglas Ariz., Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. The church is about a half mile from the Mexico/Arizona border but even with the proximity, residents report having very few problems from the Mexican side.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

EDITOR'S NOTE: The death of former Provo resident and Border Patrol agent Nicholas Ivie has focused the nation's attention on the U.S.-Mexico border. Staff Writer Dennis Romboy has reported from the scene throughout the week. Today he looks at the challenges for families along the border.

DOUGLAS, Ariz. — A few blocks from the closely aligned 18-foot high iron posts that separate the United States and Mexico, Father Gilbert Malu conducted Mass in an open lot to kick off the Church of the Immaculate Conception's annual Fiesta del Sol fundraiser.

With the setting sun glowing red between scattered clouds, he told parishioners in Spanish the four-day event isn't as much about gathering funds as it is about gathering souls.

Malu has about 1,200 families in this congregation, one of three in Douglas for which he serves as pastor. He has seen what the drug trade and the violence can do to his members and others in this border town.

Just last week, he held a funeral Mass for a 24-year-old man who was shot to death just across the border in the sprawling Mexican city of Agua Prieta.

Malu doesn't know what the young man was involved in but said he was waiting for his father to pick him and his sister up when some men grabbed him. His body was found down the street.

This week, a woman came to him for money because her husband had been kidnapped. He's also ministering to another family whose son was abducted.

Malu says he can't ransom a kidnapped father or bring back a young man. But this Congo native who came to Arizona as a Catholic missionary in 1993 offers something:

"People need some sense of hope," he said.

In the high desert of southeastern Arizona, drug trafficking, gun smuggling, border security and immigration aren't issues to be argued in hallowed halls and presidential debates.

Here where the United States meets Mexico, those realities come to life. And death.

Nicholas Ivie

The family of slain U.S. Border Patrol agent Nicholas Ivie knows that firsthand now. The former Provo, Utah resident died patrolling a heavily traveled drug corridor in the rugged mountains between Douglas and Naco. They will gather to bury a loving husband, father, son this week.

It's not that they didn't know his life could be taken. But now the intersection of those vexing problems has pierced their souls.

"We never thought it would happen to us, but it did," said Ivie's brother Chris Ivie, who added with little solace that shootings along the border "seemed so rare."

Ivie was the third border agent killed in four years.

"There are more murders in a week in Tucson than we've had in Cochise County in four years," said Becky Orozco, a Cochise College history and political science professor.

Orozco grew up in the county and knows the border well. She wrote the curriculum for a border studies program at the college. She doesn't deny there are problems but says shootings tend to be magnified because of the intense national interest on the border.

Residents would rather not have the spotlight trained on them after incidents like the Ivie shooting. And their perspectives on life along the border are as diverse as the people here. Douglas and Naco are overwhelming Hispanic. Sierra Vista is mostly white with a large military presence at Fort Huachuca. Funky Bisbee is for hippies and people living off the grid.

Life on the line

One day from retirement and moving back to his native New York, Sierra Vista Police Chief Ken Kimmel is still hesitant to have his photo taken for a news story. "I don't want to be on the cartel hit list," he says. 

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