The sweat rolled down my forehead as I sat on the back deck cleaning my gear.  Finishing up with the D50 and the lens, I reached for the bottle of water beside me.  I was facing a long night ahead in the desert and wanted to make sure I had enough water in me so that I wouldn’t get too dehydrated too quick.

I’ve been in Phoenix for less than 24 hours and here I am getting ready for my first night patrol; embedded with a group of men who’s AOO (area of operations) is just outside of town – somewhere.  I won’t say where or when; my safety and theirs depends on secrecy.  I’ve been trusted enough to find myself in the position of being the first photojournalist to be allowed to go along on these missions of humanitarian aid and I’m not going to mess it up.

When most Americans hear the term “illegal immigrant” they immediately think of someone Latino crossing the border at Nogales, El Paso or some other hot and dusty border town.  The truth though – as it often is – is not so simple.

While America has always welcomed immigrants, the phenomenon of illegal – or undocumented – immigrants is a relatively new problem with approximately 38 million immigrants living in America today.

Mexico has historically been the largest, initial point of departure for people coming to the United States.  Now it is just one of many countries who are seeing its citizens fleeing to the U.S. for safety, health and economic reasons.  With the majority of illegal immigrants to America coming across the porous border shared with Mexico, the number of Latino’s coming is declining with Asian nationals accounting for 11% of the total according to the 2011 Pew Report.

Being opportunistic, the drug cartels have attached themselves to the illegal immigrants so that drugs, laundered money and women can be brought across the border.  Typically, it’s not the undocumented aliens themselves that have brought violence to the border, but rather the drug cartel taking advantage of individuals and families seeking a different way of life.

Mike Yon, war correspondent in Afghanistan has stated that he will be working along the border in 2013 because the border between the U.S. and Mexico is “…a larger war zone than anything overseas.”

As the border continues to leak, violence and crime will continue to rise and a problem that is epidemic in the border states of Texas, Arizona and California will be visited on the rest of the country.  Already, Virginia is warning its citizens that M13, a gang of undocumented aliens, has already “infested” the state and, according to some government estimates, is responsible for 65% of the murders happening in the Old Dominion.

The race for the White House is a big deal right now.  While most voters still choose the economy to be the largest issue facing America, right behind it in the polls is illegal immigration.  There have been a lot of people who have pondered this issue and how it is addressed will help determine which candidate occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In the meantime, I have to finish cleaning my camera gear for tonight’s operation.

Follow along as I continue to report from the frontlines of America’s border struggle.  Regular updates will be posted on the American Border Support website as well as The Columbus Packet in Columbus, MS

 Jerry Nelson is a nationally recognized photojournalist and is currently in AR/TX covering the growing danger close to the border.

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