Life on the border — the ranchers

The following is part of a series on life on the border. I have spent a lot of time in the area between Green Valley and the border in a zone from Patagonia over to Arivaca talking to border area residents who live with the consequences of illegal entry and drug smuggling on a daily basis.

The ranchers in the border zone have been frustrated for a long time about how much illegal activity goes on through federal lands at the border. It has steadily gotten more and more dangerous out on the range due to the drug cartels. None of the ranchers I’ve talked to are willing to have their names used in a story for fear of retaliation.

Part of the recent secret video showing illegal entry and drug smuggling on the border was shot in the borderlands near Nogales. It should not be any surprise that if you set up a camera in one of the canyons near the border you will see lots of illegal activity. That’s because the Border Patrol is not sitting there to catch the illegal activity. Doubtless given the amount of electronic surveillance at the border, the Border Patrol’s video tapes would be extremely shocking to see how much illegal ativity is actually monitored, but not responded to because agents are not close enough to react. This is a point made over and over again by border ranchers.

Border area ranchers have had to deal with illegal entry and drug smuggling for years. Except where the Border Patrol has set up a Forward Observation Base (one of them is on a ranch west of Nogales), the borderlands are a dangerous place.

One rancher described how his cowboys are aware of drug cartel and human smugglers perched on hilltops near the border, spotting when the Border Patrol is absent, so they can run their loads of drugs or chains of people through the line. The rancher believes the cartel spotters are using satellite phones to report since cell phone service is non-existent on most of the ranch.

“We just go about our business being cowboys hoping the smugglers will leave us alone,” said the rancher.

Up until Douglas rancher Robert Krentz was murdered by a suspected drug smuggler or spotter, the ranchers and their cowboys always offered aid and assistance to illegal entrants who got into trouble on their ranches.

But since the murder of Krentz, the cowboys all over the border region have been instructed not to have any contact with illegal entrants out of fear they will be murdered.

All the ranchers I’ve talked to are armed. But they joke that “a 94 [Winchester rifle] is not match for a 47 [an AK 47 carried by drug smugglers]”.

They fervently hope they will never encounter a convoy of smugglers armed with automatic weapons on their ranches. When they see suspected illegal entrants or drug smugglers, they head off in the opposite direction.

Some ranchers have given up their federal leases on some lands simply because continuing to run cows in those areas was too risky. They also joke about how the cartel and the anti-ranching environmentalists win in that case. “Some of the environmentalists would rather have illegal entrants and drug smugglers out there instead of our cows,” said one rancher. He then joked that maybe the jaguars and wolves  should be trained to eat drug smugglers.

There are also stories about how the drug cartel has been buying up ranches on the Mexican side of the border to protect their smuggling zones. Even though the boundary of the US ranches abuts Mexico, there was a long history of cooperation between ranchers on both sides of the border. That is disappearing.

I was with one of the ranchers when we encountered an illegal entrant south of Ruby Road west of Nogales who thought Interstate 8 was just a few miles away. This is an all too common experience with illegal entrants being misled by the coyotes about what they are walking into. I have had this same experience numerous times over the years in my journeys into the borderlands. That is one of the reasons 200 or so dead migrants are discovered each year along the Arizona border.

Several of the ranches have installed drinking foundations at their watering tanks in the canyons north of the border, so illegal entrants don’t die of thirst. It is an amazing site to be in one of these remote canyons near the border and see drinking fountains.

Some of the ranchers have installed “side step” gates on their fence lines. The reason for this is they got sick and tired of people cutting their fences.

However, on one of the ranches, the Border Patrol installed sensors at the side step gates, rendering them useless. The illegal immigrants continue cutting the rancher’s fences.

A few weeks ago one morning one of the ranchers encountered a Border Patrol agent out on one of the ranch roads. The guy’s vehicle’s battery was dead. As the rancher put it “we had to think for a minute whether we’d jump his truck to get him on his way.” The BP agent had apparently sat all night out on the range listening to his radio or something. Finally, the BP agent was given a jump so he could be on his way.

Other than the ranch where the Forward Observation Base is located, I have heard nothing positive from ranchers about the Border Patrol’s efforts in their areas.

The Border Patrol is viewed as “next to useless” by the ranchers.

The border fence has been constructed on many areas of the ranch lands. According to the ranchers who have the new fences, this has slowed down the traffic and stopped vehicles from crossing the border. At one ranch they described semi-trucks coming across the border at night east of Nogales before the fence was installed.

Over and over I have heard complaints about the Border Patrol simply not being where they were needed.

One rancher has moved his wife and kids to the Midwest because he was afraid for their safety because of the absence of any effective Border Patrol response capability and the amount of drug smuggling still going on across that ranch.

Arizona’s ranchers have proposed an 18 point border security plan. Washington needs to take heed of this because our ranchers are on the front line of the war against illegal entry and drug smuggling.

Every rancher I talked to said pretty much the same thing about the Krentz murder. “It could have been me”. And daily they go out on their ranches doing their cowboy thing wondering if they’ll make it home safe that night.

Arizona Cattle Grower’s Association

Restore Our Border (ROB) Security Plan

Designed as a list of actionable items requiring the immediate attention and implementation by Local, State and Federal Authorities charged with securing our border with Mexico and the security of the citizens of Arizona


 The U.S./Mexico border in southern Arizona has become a lawless region. Criminals, bandits and an international organized crime unit are operating with impunity in the region. Their trades are burglary, home invasion, drug smuggling, human smuggling, murder, extortion and kidnapping rackets. These organized crime units have been terrorizing northern Mexico for 20 years and have been terrorizing Southern Arizona for at least 10 years. These entities are extremely violent and dangerous and they have now succeeded in creating terror in Southern Arizona as they have in Northern Mexico.

The level of fear and frustration from southern Arizona’s Ranching Families has been building for sometime now. Along with these families other residents in the area have also experienced the mayhem and terror of these illegal actions and crimes. The level of lawlessness reached such a point that a small tight knit group of Southern Arizona individuals, who were determined to find solutions, began a quest of fact finding to identify actions needing to be deployed along the border with Mexico. These individuals have been meeting with prosecutors, law enforcement officials, judicial officials, and agency personnel charged with securing our border.

This Report is the culmination of over 18 months of meetings, research, fact finding and interviews regarding potential solutions to the current border crisis. The basis for this Report is to provide concrete actions which have been vetted as viable and needed along with measureable results regarding the implementation of these needed actions directly adjacent to the U.S./Mexico border.

We do not pretend to have all of the answers. However, we do believe the actions items contained in this Report have been vetted to the extent that they will enhance and provide security along our border with Mexico. They will begin to provide some semblance of lawfulness along the border.

The ACGA is providing this Report first hand to all of the elected or government officials who have the responsibility of securing our border with Mexico. We will directly ask them to implement the action items which represent their duties and official positions. We will follow up with each official to demand action on these items. Where we deem action is lacking or not forthcoming we will notify southern Arizona citizens and all levels of media. We demand action.


Educate media outlets and the public about our remote and unique ranching areas and the open criminal opportunity it affords illegal aliens, smugglers and unknown illegal entrants into our country.

With the media’s help, accurately represent the Arizona Ranching Community’s position on border security. Reject bogus assertions ranchers are encouraging the use of force in protecting their lives and property. Assure the public understands, without bias, rancher commitment in constructively solving the Border Security crisis.

Describe and personalize the real life impacts of the lawlessness from illegal activities on our personal security, ranching operations and infrastructure. Depict the combined damaging impacts of real security threats from organized criminal activity in the form of burglaries, home invasions, illegal smuggling and destruction/degradation of private and public lands, loss of feed stocks to illegal alien fires, vandalism, loss of livestock and interruption of raising livestock for food production.

From a rancher’s as well as homeowner’s point of view, recommend specific and measureable State and Federal Border Security measures needed to secure Arizona’s Borderlands. Certify Border security successes and failures from local residents, County Law Enforcement, County Prosecutor and Sector Border Patrol Officials without relying on Washington’s limited and often inaccurate understanding of the problems facing Arizona ranchers.

Key Principles For Relations Between Media, Stakeholders & ACGA

Honest recognition that the Border is not safe or secure/Politics in denial

 Honest assessment and understanding of the broad security threats from this invasion.

Report the truth without “Political Correctness”/Provide the true reality on the ground

Credibility and Respect

Non confrontational – yet firmly presenting the facts

Results Driven/Reject Process “Jawboning”

Accountable to be effective/Measure Results

Sense of urgency and follow up

Clear and factual communications



Persistent Action


The U.S. Mexico/Arizona Border is out of control. Current security measures and Border Patrol and County Law Enforcement assets deployed in Arizona are insufficient to improve much less correct the situation.  

 • The U.S. Mexico Border must be credibly and sustainably secured and existing immigration laws judiciously enforced. Talk is over, time to act!Achieving immediate Border Security is the most important critical success factor in protecting U.S. citizens from U.S. Mexico Border smuggling and the extensive amount of criminal acts caused by it. The unacceptable risks associated with not knowing who crosses the Border poses a grave threat and increases the vulnerability to a likely terrorist attack. The political and lengthy Immigration debate is a serious distraction in the battle to credibly secure the U.S. Mexico Border.

 If you extrapolated the number of Arizona Borderlands burglaries, home invasions, fires property and ranch infrastructure damage to a comparable per capita urban area or, to a national disaster such as Katrina, the Arizona Borderlands would qualify for National Disaster Area financial relief and U.S. military presence to restore Arizona/New Mexico Borderlands Community Security.The cumulative financial costs and the ongoing financial burden upon Arizona residents and ranching operations attributable to illegal immigration and smuggling have become intolerable. As a business enterprise, we have a system which is providing consistent destructive actions upon our lives and businesses. These destructive influences will increase consumer costs and ranch failures.  


1. The judicial and law enforcement systems, which handle prosecution of these criminal activities, shall recognize and apply an enforcement mechanism that provides for the prosecution of illegally crossing into the U.S. over the Border, for the first time, as a felony barring any person from ever working or receiving residency visa status in the U.S. No exceptions.

2. Immediately deploy operational units of the U.S. Military to the Arizona/Mexico Border. Station overwhelming Border Patrol/Military blocking force denying illegal entry at the Border.

3. Establish permanent Forward Operating Bases (FOB) immediately adjacent to the U.S. border with Mexico. (Suggesting at least one FOB every 12 miles)

 4. Overhaul and add teeth to the “Pursuit and Apprehension” policies for Law Enforcement to assure deterrence and protect U.S. residents and State authorities from potential harm. In the first instance, authorize the U.S. Military, Border Patrol, State and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies to use these beefed up policies to enforce existing laws.

5. Authorize the use of force in the interdiction of vehicles and aircraft illegally crossing the U.S. Mexico Border. Empower the Local Law Enforcement leaders to adjust policies to meet conditions on the ground and not rely only upon inflexible procedures preventing Border Security.

6. Enforce all existing immigration laws without exception. Streamline and expedite deportation of illegal aliens.

7. Add 3,000+ Arizona BP field agents by 2011. Assure additional incremental hardware is part of Field Agent deployment.

8. Increase County Law Enforcement permanent “Stonegarden Funding” for additional deputies and fully equipped 4 x 4 patrol vehicles.

9. Expedite 2010 deployment of new generation digital radio technology to Arizona and New Mexico Border Patrol.

10. Substantially increase Border Patrol Recon 3, MSS/Radar and FLIR mobile surveillance units and operators. Assure additional incremental agents are deployed to operate this hardware and technology.

11. Replace outdated Border Patrol Air & Marine Rotorcraft air support with contemporary rotorcraft and small single engine fixed wing. Deploy air support on/near the U.S. Border.

12. Establish mandatory Cellular coverage for remote non-service areas.

13. Equip Border Patrol and County Law Enforcement with GMRS “Rhino” GPS radios allowing homeowners and ranchers to communicate in remote areas.

14. Establish “No Seam” Wilcox/Douglas, Arizona and Lordsburg New Mexico Border Policy Corridor into its own Border Patrol Sector.

15. Increase and fund additional Arizona Horse Patrol Units.

16. Streamline federal claims process for recovering damages caused by illegal alien burglaries, vandalism and ranch infrastructure/livestock losses to include feed stock losses on both private & public lands (fires).

17. Adequately fund State and Federal Attorneys’ Offices to assure timely prosecutions of Border related offences. Stiffen 9th Circuit Appeals Court immigration and narcotics prosecutorial policies.

18. Measure Border Security success on the community via a monthly disclosure of all crimes, by title and code, committed and suspected to be committed by illegal alien activities which have conducted burglaries, home invasions, and ranching infrastructure/livestock losses. Establish operational transparency for Arizona residents of illegal alien and smuggling activity in their respective Border Patrol Sector and Communities to include County law Enforcement statistics and incidents


About Hugh Holub

Attorney and writer.
This entry was posted in border issues, border patrol, border security, department of homeland security, mexican drug cartels, us customs and border protection. Bookmark the permalink.

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