They wear giant slippers with soles of carpet.
It’s the standard item for immigrants making an illegal crossing over the US border into Arizona – the crude wrap-around footwear with carpeted soles that don’t show tracks in the desert sand.
And we saw them everywhere – discarded with camouflaged jackets and trousers, worn to blend with the landscape and offer concealment from border patrols.
A sighting of dumped ‘cammo’ is the signature evidence of another one that got away.
It doesn’t work every time.
We joined a twilight patrol with a sheriff’s deputy in Cochise County, where Mexico meets Arizona. It was a late shift on the border, hovering on Highway 92 – until the handbrake turn that signified a sighting.
Roadside cameras had picked up movement on a stretch of highway, well-used as a pick-up point. People making illegal crossings are directed here by the cartels they pay for passage.
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- US midterms 2022
Those criminal gangs recruit drivers in the United States through social media, often teenagers. They are paid a fee, typically $2,000 a head, to pick up the immigrants and drive them north.
Our deputy’s search took him into the scrub by the roadside, underneath drains and through weeds, until his torch shone on three people, a man and two women dressed in camouflage and carpeted footwear, hiding silently in the darkened undergrowth.
Crisis levels of illicit exports
They were a sad sight – weary, dejected and eagerly clutching the water provided by the border officials who marched them into the rear of their pick-up vehicle.
The smuggling infrastructure that facilitates human traffic across the Mexican border is exploited to transport drugs, too – in crisis quantities.
Illicit export into the United States is fuelling crisis levels of use of the drug fentanyl, in particular.
Small wonder border security, as a midterm election issue, is top of the list for many in Arizona.
“We spend a lot of our time chasing the border challenges,” said Sheriff of Cochise County Mark Dannels.
“They’re running through people’s properties, breaking in, car pursuits at 100 miles an hour every day in this county.”
“In 2021, Arizona led the nation – over five million pills were seized here in southern Arizona.
“Our problem is our president, our leadership in Congress, has to change the message – has to get the politics out of it and has to have action behind it.
“We can’t get our president, or leadership of Congress, to even admit there’s an issue out here.
“It’s frustrating for me that the federal government says we don’t have a problem. It’s a huge challenge, and it’s insulting.”
Border security plays into the election priorities in Arizona.
It’s at the core of debate alongside the economy, abortion and crime – significant subject matter and yet, for many, sub-headings at these midterms.
In this voting process, the power of the vote itself is the issue threaded through the campaign.
The Democrats’ warning, from the president down, is of democracy under threat from election denial embedded in the electoral process.
Read more: Anger, betrayal and fear as America braces for the midterm elections
The Republican Party is fielding more than 300 candidates, for various positions of power, who believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.
Prominent among them is Kari Lake, who is standing for the post of governor in Arizona.
She has star quality, no doubt.
The Trump-loyalist is a polished former TV anchor who glides through the campaign trail on an “Ask Me Anything” tour.
Not that anyone asks about election fraud.
There’s a reason for that – no-one doubts it in the court of Kari, Trump loyalist.
We attended her event at the Fire House in Peoria, Arizona, squeezed in alongside TV crews from Japan and France, present to witness a growing phenomenon in US politics.
This poster girl of election denialism is touted as a potential running mate for Mr Trump, should he stand for the presidency in 2024.
I spoke to several members of the audience, and they were as polite as they were strident in volunteering that “the media” was to blame for an election fraud that cost Mr Trump the presidency.
In an awkward, yet somehow matey, interaction, the crowd was encouraged by Ms Lake to turn in their chairs and wave to the “fake news” filming from the back of the room.
For them, cheerful affirmation of election denialism is as routine as it is casual, in a Republican Party that feels Donald Trump’s gravitational pull.
Doubting the integrity of an electoral process has long since evolved from a fringe concept into a mainstream and widely-held conviction – never mind there’s no evidence to suggest election fraud of any material significance.
If Ms Lake becomes governor in Arizona, and polls indicate she has every chance, it will be her job to certify the state’s count at the 2024 presidential election.
This is a Trump-loyalist who claims he was robbed in 2020; she won’t fully endorse the integrity of the midterm election she’s standing in.
I asked her: “Is the only election you’ll endorse, one that you win?”
Her answer was: “I will absolutely accept the results of a fair, honest and transparent election.”
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It is a straight answer few would disagree with. It’s also one that leaves the door open to denying the integrity of the electoral process.
Who will be surprised if that doesn’t come to pass?
This is Arizona, which saw challenges, audits and lawsuits that led nowhere after the 2020 election.
It was pantomime protest that saw this state dubbed “ground zero” for election denial – that might just have been the curtain-raiser.