Badlands

From Ground Zero of the Immigration Crisis Along the Mexican Border

"One of their family members who was coming across was really sick with diabetes, and they were very upset," the deputy says.

"I called Border Patrol, which has a team that helps people in need — and I went out there, too. Picture someone's uncle or grandfather. He had on a suit jacket or something. He looked decent — not a criminal — trying to make a better life. It came down to this. He was dead. I still feel sorry for him."

Sheriff Dever is back in Arizona, one day after his April 20 testimony before the U.S. Senate.

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."

He drives over to the Turquoise Valley Golf Course in Naco, where the Sierra Vista Chamber of Commerce is holding a breakfast meeting.

Standing before about 30 people, service pistol strapped to his blue jeans, Dever speaks with quiet passion about (what else?) immigration, before inviting questions.

Senate Bill 1070, then a few days from getting signed by Governor Brewer, and Rob Krentz's murder are what the businesspeople most want to know about.

Susan Tegmeyer, the chamber's president, frets that SB 1070 will make the rest of the country believe that Arizona is filled with racists: "I'm thinking that 1070 is just another nail in our economic coffin."

Dever responds, "The alternative is to do nothing, and that's not acceptable. I expect that our deputies will exercise restraint on 1070. I simply won't allow random wholesale questioning of who you are and where you come from."

The sheriff tells another story about Janet Napolitano:

"As governor of Arizona, she would send bills to the feds trying to get counties repaid for handling stuff that the feds should have been doing. I thought, cool.

"She also wrote to W. asking for National Guard troops down here. I thought, cool.

"Then she goes to D.C. A year ago, I was in her office there, and I asked her directly if deploying the National Guard on the border was still on her plate. She said it was. I said, do you have a timeframe?

"She said they were just trying to determine the specific mission. I said, 'You have a timeframe?' She said, 'Three weeks.' That was a year ago."

On May 25, President Obama announced plans to order up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, including an unspecified number to Cochise County.

It is reminiscent of June 2006, when President Bush sent 6,000 troops to the border for two years in a support role that did not include arresting or even tracking down illegal migrants.

Larry Dever long has endorsed moving troops to the border, as do the ranchers interviewed by New Times for this story.

But each of them in his and her own fashion warn against thinking that the Guard will be a magic cure to the multi-layered issue of illegal immigration.

"I'd like to know what the plan is when someone finally figures it out," Dever tells New Times drolly. "I'm sure someone in D.C. knows what they're doing, right?"

Bud Strom, the old rancher and Army general, is skeptical that larger National Guard presence on the border is a positive move.

"Unless they are really savvy to the sophistication of the drug cartels, I don't think they'll be of immediate use," Strom says of the guardsmen. "They'd have to be trained to the methodology that drug smugglers are using down here, and it's not an overnight thing."

The Border Patrol's T.J. Bonner agrees: "This shouldn't be a case of, 'Okay, sleep tight, America, we've got a few thousand troops down there to save the day.

"I can see the Guard helping us with surveillance, with helping us maintain roads, but they don't have the training that we have.'

"Yes, we have seen a tremendous escalation of violence in the last year, especially on the Mexican side. But to just put them out there and say, 'Arrest these people,' is inviting disaster because they have very different training than us — very proactive, not reactive. They are going to have to be seriously retrained."

On the other hand, retired Judge Rich Winkler wants the U.S. military to deploy as many troops as necessary to the border, with permission to do whatever it takes to stem the flow of drugs and illegal aliens.

Hold on, aren't most ranchers deeply opposed to the federal government's butting into their lives, for instance telling them how to run their cattle?

Isn't it a bit much to count on the feds — the personification to many ranchers of all that is wrong with this country — to solve something that politicians and their apparatchiks have made worse over generations?

Standing beneath a windmill on his magnificent ranch on an April day so perfect that, for at least a moment or two, nothing seems to be wrong in the world, Rich Winkler chuckles.

"Well, I guess it all depends on whose ox is being gored," he says. "And, believe me, our ox out here is really being gored."

The unsolved murder of southern Arizona rancher Rob Krentz became the tipping point for the immigration crisis in Arizona and nationwide.

Many Cochise County residents blame the federal government, far more than illegal aliens, for the influx of drug and human smugglers. In fact, there's empathy for the Mexicans coming over for a better life.

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