Badlands

From Ground Zero of the Immigration Crisis Along the Mexican Border

Ladd says he knows of 11 illegal aliens who have died on his land over the past 10 years, including one man whose body was just a few hundred yards from his home.

Like almost everyone in Cochise County, whatever their political persuasion, Ladd blames the feds — more than undocumented aliens — for the immigration crisis in his midst.

"I've counted 468 wetbacks — sorry, politically incorrect — undocumented aliens on our ranch in the last three weeks, two or three groups a day," he says.

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."

"We used to have hundreds every day. Some would call ahead for taxis that would drive down our dirt road off Highway 92 there and wait. No BS.

"[Our ranch goes] right to the border. The feds have got their cameras set up out there, those big powerful nightlights, and the fence [that] is 13 feet high in parts. Plus Border Patrol agents supposedly driving back and forth on the frontage road.

"But if they're still getting over onto my property with all of that 'security,' then what about where it's a lot easier to get in, like over where [Rich] Winkler and the Krentzes live?"

The fence, also known as the "Great Wall of Mexico," is an almost surreal-looking structure of corrugated steel that runs on and off for almost 650 miles on the southwest border (nearly half of which is in Arizona).

At Ladd's ranch, the fence is up to 13 feet high, while over in the more-mountainous eastern part of the county, it simply consists of low-slung barriers designed to stop vehicles from crossing easily.

The feds have spent $2.5 billion since 2005 to build the fence, and they estimate it will cost taxpayers another $6.5 billion to maintain it.

Politicians, especially since the Krentz murder, have delighted in using the fence as a photo-op backdrop for their campaign commercials. In one, U.S. Senator John McCain growls for the feds to "complete the danged fence," as he and Pinal County Sheriff Babeu — whose jurisdiction is close to 100 miles from the border — stride alongside each other.

The fence has become the illegal-immigration solution du jour for any number of people, especially those who don't live near it. But many who live at or near the border aren't so enamored of it.

"If you put up a wall, you need to have someone watching it," says Bill Odle, who lives with his wife, Ellen, on 50 border acres. "And if someone is watching it, you don't need a wall."

Odle has come down to the San Pedro River to say hello to his friend John Ladd and to share some thoughts with New Times. He is a retired U.S. Marine, a Vietnam War veteran who loves his country and hates the federal government and the influx of illegal immigrants, probably in that order.

"If there's a guy wanting to work up here, and he's hungry, a damned wall isn't going to stop him," Odle says. "And that definitely goes for the people who want to do us harm, people transporting that shit that we do not need. The hell of it is, a lot of [undocumented aliens] do want to do honest work. I get that."

Odle's comment about the fence's inability to stop people from coming over sounds like what Janet Napolitano, then Arizona's governor, said in December 2005: "You show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder at the border."

Despite that comment, Napolitano and her boss, President Barack Obama, are none too popular these days with many in Cochise County.

"I am not one of those who says we ought to shoot every son of a bitch who comes over here. That's not what we stand for as a country," Odle says. "But, God Almighty, we have to do something! I'm not so sure that Janet and Barack really agree with me on that."

"Welcome to the free state of Cochise, drug-smuggling capital of Arizona. Welcome to southeast Arizona's wild outlands.

"Everyone in this border county knows the war on drugs is a dismal failure. And no one quite knows what to do about it."

New Times published this in the story "Smuggler's Paradise" on June 28, 1989.

Larry Dever, then a major serving under Sheriff Jimmy Judd, said at the time, "They're always going to bring it across. We are a major-league transfer zone. Lots of money and dope exchange hands on a wholesale basis."

Things are a quantum leap worse now, four U.S. presidents and six Arizona governors later.

Despite a steady surge in law enforcement presence in Cochise County — there are agencies on the scene with more acronyms than in a military handbook — these desert badlands continue to be a hotbed of dope- and people-smuggling.

Recent Border Patrol numbers and anecdotal accounts suggest strongly that Cochise County now is seeing more dope-smuggling (pot, cocaine, meth, and heroin) than human-smuggling.

Even with the addition since 2007 of about 10,000 Border Patrol agents in the sector and miles of new fence, fewer than half of incoming illegal aliens are apprehended.

To many who live on the front lines of Arizona's badlands, the only sure thing is the staggering amount of money available to almost everyone — not just the bad guys — involved in the illegal-immigration industry.

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