Badlands

From Ground Zero of the Immigration Crisis Along the Mexican Border

"It comes in many forms. People attempting to enter this country illegally are regularly subjected to robbery, assault, rape, kidnapping, and all other kinds of atrocities. Much of this occurs before they ever cross the border. Competing organizations rob, steal, and murder, also on both sides of the border.

"Sheriffs on the border have no interest in becoming immigration-enforcement agents. But we cannot sit by while our citizens are terrorized, robbed, and murdered by ruthless and desperate people who enter our country illegally. Herein lies the real daily threat to the security of our homeland."

Dever ended his remarks by using an old trick of his, quoting a chief of the Border Patrol's Tucson sector: "'Within the last year, we've been mandated by Congress to gain control of the border. And we're going to do that along the southern border, whether it's narcotics, illegal aliens, terrorists, criminals, or whatever.'"

Janet Napolitano: "The border is as secure as it's ever been."
Janet Napolitano: "The border is as secure as it's ever been."
Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever at the fence near Naco: "There are good people coming over here looking for jobs, I understand that. But bad guys are coming in and will continue to come in."
Paul Rubin
Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever at the fence near Naco: "There are good people coming over here looking for jobs, I understand that. But bad guys are coming in and will continue to come in."

The sheriff's kicker: The former Border Patrol chief said that in 1987.

Though the sheriff, like the majority of his constituency, is a staunch conservative, he's not a knee-jerk politician in the mold of his publicity-seeking peers from Maricopa and Pinal Counties, sheriffs Joe Arpaio and Paul Babeu, respectively.

The father of six grown sons (three of whom are in law enforcement), Dever's life experience affords him a more nuanced perspective than the stereotype of a rural Arizona sheriff might suggest.

The sheriff's two-year mission for his church led him as a young man to Central America, where he saw firsthand what poverty does to a person — to a family — and he understands the impulse that would push someone to make a death-defying journey into his county's big backyard.

Though he's a cop through and through, and hates what illegal immigration has meant to his financially strapped county, Dever also expresses a quiet compassion for aliens who seemingly don't pose a threat to anyone but themselves.

"I had been down in Naco," he relates, "and I was driving home [to St. David]. I passed the junction of Highways 80 and 90 and saw this girl, pregnant — like 10 months — off on the side of the road.

"Border Patrol had a checkpoint going this side of Tombstone. I got in an argument with myself as I drove on, and then decided to turn around and see what was up. She was an illegal, obviously, and she couldn't keep up with her group, so [the coyote] dumped her off.

"I seriously thought about taking her home, but that would have created some issues. She was actually going into labor. She was very thirsty. She probably would have crawled off into the bush, given birth to her child, and died right there. I dropped her off at the checkpoint. That's the last I know."

This is just one illustration of what people will do to get to the United States, the nation of choice for millions — not just Mexicans. People who will risk their lives, and even the lives of their children, trying to get here.

Many of these immigrants (a perfect example are "Nacho" Ibarra's Mexican-born parents, who illegally walked across the nearly dry Rio Grande in Texas in 1948 and became productive members of American society) appreciate this country's liberties more than average Americans, because they don't take them for granted.

Hereford cattle rancher Bud Strom answers immediately when asked whether he would try to cross into the United States if he were a poor Latino from south of the border.

"In a heartbeat!" he bellows, adding that this doesn't mean the borders shouldn't be more secure.

The cowboy poet and retired Army brigadier general has had to contend over the past decade with thousands of illegal aliens tromping through his Single Star Ranch, cutting his water lines and fences and leaving waste (human and otherwise) behind.

Sitting on a front porch at his ranch, one of his many rescue dogs resting at his feet, the grizzled 78-year-old recites a poem of his called Doing Business Just the Same:

"Border Patrol came through

Broke my gate down, too

As they cut my water lines

They said they'd fix it soon

By tomorrow noon

These delays take, too, much time.

My response? No thanks

Can't have empty tanks

But it sets me down to think

How I'll fix it now

For my thirsty cows

My critters need to drink

But we're doing business just the same.

Illegals cut my fence

Makes no sense

Cuz there's gates they could go through

Of course my cows are hopin'

That they find them open

To parade Route 92."

State Route 92 is the thoroughfare that connects Sierra Vista and Bisbee at the southern tip of Cochise County.

Strom's neighbor, 55-year-old John Ladd, runs his family's homesteaded San Jose Ranch on a 10-mile stretch of border in Palominas, east of the San Pedro River.

A garrulous guy with a droll sense of humor, Ladd takes New Times to the border in his rickety old pickup.

"To be honest," he says on the short bumpy ride, "I'm beat down right now by the day-after-day stuff — the garbage all over the place, worrying about my cows, constantly repairing fences that the sons of bitches keep cutting. Stupid. "

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