Border ranchers in Cochise County feel abandoned by Washington

Photographs of rancher Robert Krentz at his home. Krentz was gunned down on his property 25 miles from the Arizona-Mexico border five years ago and his murder remains unsolved. (Photo by Fan Wang/Cronkite News)

DOUGLAS – Border security is a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail, but Arizona ranchers who live near the border say they’ve been left out of the debate and forgotten by Washington lawmakers, who they say have done nothing about immigration reform.

“In the federal government, there’s absolutely zero level of urgency,” said Ed Arshurst, a rancher in Cochise County.

Arshurst’s ranch is 20 miles from the Arizona-Mexico border. A year ago he set up a camera system to capture images of the people who cut through his property.

“See, this is dope,” Arshurst pointed to video images and photos of two men in camouflage clothing carrying large backpacks.

“That traffic is no different, I’d say it has increased, although the government does not want people to know that,” Arshurst said. “You become numb to it, because there’s so much of it.”

Cochise County shares 83 miles of border with Mexico. Although the number of undocumented workers crossing has declined, the region remains a major drug trafficking corridor.

“We’ve had 51 trucks through our ranch in the last three and a half years, full of marijuana, full-size pickup, and hadn’t been caught,” said John Ladd, a rancher who is right on the border just west of Naco. “They’re cutting the steel wall down in the daytime, and driving three miles to the highway. Now you tell me that we have a secure border.”

Ladd said he often sees smugglers or their lookouts on his ranch.

“Never let them see that you’re on the phone,” Ladd said. “I call the border patrol after they leave.”

Both Arshurst and Ladd said they have had to cope with people breaking into their homes and stealing vehicles.

“The third time we had someone in our house, we decided to lock the door and the third time we had our vehicles stolen, we decided to take the key out,” said Ladd. “Everything’s got a lock on it.”

Ranchers in Cochise County say they were promised more security five years ago after Robert Krentz was shot and killed on his ranch about 25 miles north of the border.

“He called his brother on the phone, and he said there’s this illegal that looks like he’s sick, please call the Border Patrol,” said Susan Krentz, his wife. “That was the last time we heard of him. The next time we found him, he was already dead.”

Robert Krentz’s murder remains unsolved. Border ranchers say they have had numerous meetings with lawmakers from Washington, including U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“But nothing has changed,” said Ladd.

Ladd is also frustrated with the lack of immigration reform. He wants an expanded guest worker program.

“The first thing that has to happen is there has to be a legitimate work program for people to come legally,” said Ladd.

But the new House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has said he will not take any action as long as President Obama is in office.

Many border ranchers have given up on Washington altogether.

“I have to live down here, and protect myself,” Arshurst said.

He and other ranchers carry guns and and cell phones while working on their own property.
Ladd got his first cell phone after Robert Krentz was killed to stay in touch with neighboring ranchers.

“We’re always talking to each other. ‘Where are you at? What you gonna do?’ And that’s how we live,” said Ladd.

Susan Krentz has to live with the memory of her murdered husband.

“You are traumatized so emotionally and mentally and physically, you know. I don’t think you ever get over it,” said Krentz.