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Living on the Arizona Border

September 13, 2010

I was flying back from Tucson on Sunday, August 22nd.  The woman sitting next to me on the plane was reading an article in the Arizona Star entitled “Nearly 1700 Bodies, each one a mystery.” The article was about the bodies the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office has found in the desert over the past ten years. The volume accounts for 20% of the office’s workload.

The number of deaths isn’t the real story, though. The problem is much bigger than that. I’ve talked to people who lived in southern Arizona in the 1980s and early 1990s;  Immigration does not seem to have been a problem then. Ranchers and others we talked to in Cochise County in southeastern Arizona said that the border was open then. I saw a couple of boundary stones that were, besides livestock fences and cattle gates, the only way to know where the border was.

Today it is much different. Living on the border today is no the way to live.

One rancher and former Arizona legislator told us that when she walks her property in the Ramsey Canyon just east of the Huachua Mountains she does so with her cell phone, a camera and her .38. She has found 40-60 bundles of marijuana on her property and has hauled 4 ½ truckloads of trash from her 8 acres.

Border Patrol agents are transferred if they make too many arrests. CNS News reported Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County said the U.S. Border Patrol has pulled back from parts of the border in his and neighboring counties because manning those areas has become too dangerous. “And you frankly have Border Patrolmen–and I know this from talking to Border Patrol agents—who will not allow their agents to work on the border because it is too dangerous.”

Another rancher, whose family ranched in southern Arizona and New Mexico for four generations, finds it too dangerous to live at her ranch. She has reduced her herd from 600 head to 250 and plans to sell her ranch—if she can. The ranch is more than 25 miles from the border.

Chris Holbert and BLM Warning Sign

We saw the signs warning people to stay out of certain areas. “Active Drug and Human Smuggling Area” reads the first warning bullet. It doesn’t prevent you from entering, as in an area adjacent to the border, but this is within sight of I-8 near Gila Bend, Arizona, some 70 miles from the border.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said September 1 requests by Arizona law enforcement personnel and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) for 3,000 National Guard troops along the state’s border with Mexico have been answered so far with 1 percent of that number deployed there this week: 30 personnel. Our contacts said that the last time the National Guard showed up, they set up observation posts on hilltops–where they were certain to be seen by smugglers.

Note that this isn’t just Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio highlighting the problems. Although he is more well-known, the problems affect all the counties in Arizona. I’ve cited just four counties, which tend to be much larger than Colorado counties.

Another contact recently told me that many people in Phoenix have “go-bags” and are prepared to leave on a moment’s notice. Is that a way to live in this country?

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