Mireya Delapena came to the United States from Mexico when she was six. Now, she runs a small business in East Harlem, helping Mexicans in both countries transmit money and packages. But after President Trump signed an executive order last Wednesday to build a wall at the US-Mexico border, she is worried that her business will be severely affected.
Antonio Tizapa, from Iguala, Guerrero chants “Vivos se los llevaron, Vivos los queremos!” at a protest aimed at Mexico’s president who was staying at the St. Regis Hotel. In his hand he holds a photo of his son, Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, who is one of the 43 missing student teachers from Mexico’s Ayotzinapa’s Rural Teacher’s College . Photo by Cora Cervantes
Antonio Tizapa’s son, Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, would be 22 this year. Jorge Antonio was one of the 43 student teachers from Mexico’s Ayotzinapa’s Rural Teacher’s College, that disappeared in September, two years ago.
With tears in his eyes, Tizapa said that his son is alive. He said that his reason for speaking up is his son, but his drive also comes from the indignation he feels toward larger issues of corruption and impunity that have distorted Mexico’s rule of law.
Yesterday evening, Tizapa, stood across the street from the St. Regis New York Hotel in Midtown, clutching in his hand a poster size picture of his missing son. He joined dozens of protesters with raised Mexican flags and fists in the air who began to chant in Spanish, “Vivos se los llevaron, Vivos los queremos!” (They were taken alive, we want them alive!).
The protesters gathered to express anger and frustration towards Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto’s New York visit and to remind the president of the 2nd anniversary of the mass disappearance of 43 students that took place in Iguala, Guerrero.
“We are asking for international support so that our children can be found and so that those that are responsible are held accountable,” he said. “We are not here because we want to be here. We are here because we are the product of a bad government.”
Outside of the hotel, parents, students, and activists expressed the frustration they felt about poor policy reforms and the alleged corruption within Peña Nieto’s administration. When the protesters were told that Peña Nieto was arriving, they loudly counted up to 43 in remembrance of the missing students.
The story of the 43 missing students received media attention last week, when Mexico’s Official Chief Investigator, Tomás Zerón, resigned amidst accusations of incompetence and a lack of transparency.
The crime statistics in Mexico are staggering. Reports say 151,233 people were killed between December 2006 and August 2015. At least a third of the murders are connected to organized crime. At least 26,000 people have gone missing and are believed to have been kidnapped since 2007 and thousands of women are sexually assaulted. There are very few convictions.
The disappearance and government’s reaction to ongoing protests has drawn criticism from the international community. In April of 2016, The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly urged the Mexican government to take into consideration the recommendations made by the GIEI, an independent committee appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The GIEI’s report highlighted obstruction and inconsistencies in the Mexican government’s account of the disappearances. The report also made recommendations that included the need to strengthen the Attorney General’s office and the police department. The Mexican Government stated that they would comply with the GIEI’s recommendations, but no action has been taken.
Peña Nieto who was in attendance at the Foreign Policy Association 2016 World Leadership Forum Dinner to speak on U.S.-Mexico relations, was not available for comment. His office did not reach out to protesters, who had requested to meet with him.
The protesters drew a small crowd. Among them were tourists and immigrants from Mexico, who noticed the Mexican flags.
Not all agreed with the protestors.
“We try not to get involved with political matters,” said Diana Contreras, 25, who was visiting from Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico “There is a lot going on in Mexico, but there are different ways to respond.I don’t think these protesters represent the reality we live in Mexico.”
Oscar Gonzalez Castillo, 27, an immigrant from Puebla, Mexico, who has been living in New York City for eight years noticed the protest on his way home from work.
“I feel that it is fair that the protesters are here,” he said. “I feel bad. It is unjust for so many killings to go unanswered. I have family in Mexico. I feel helpless and sad… but I can stand here in support of the protesters,” he said.
Wendy Reyes prepared the usual order of “res,” a type of meat used in Mexican cuisine, for a customer at her family-owned bodega. Familiar products from home, like “res,” papalo and extra spicy jalapenos, bring comfort to her neighborhood customers, many who recently immigrated here from Mexico.
The bodega, Guadalupita II Mexican Deli and Grocery, sells specialty Mexican products at Fifth Avenue and 39th Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. For more than 13 years, Reyes has listened to her customers talk about issues such as their Mexican heritage, gang violence and anti-immigration laws that affect the neighborhood’s Mexican community.
Reyes, 32, is the owner’s daughter. She works the deli counter and register every day.
Originally from Puebla, Mexico, she immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 15.
“We left Mexico looking for opportunities and a better life. The only thing you can do in Puebla is to farm,” Reyes said.
Visiting Guadalupita II, like many of the bodegas in Sunset Park, is like crossing the border into Mexico. As you walk in, there is the smell and allure of jalapenos. Lively Mexican music and ceilings lined with brightly colored banners called “papel picado” give the place a fiesta vibe.
“We have a lot of specialty items that you only find in Mexico. We sell rare Mexican cooking herbs like papalo and pipicha, which has a ‘sabor fuerte,’ ” Reyes said.
Reyes’ family came to Sunset Park because they knew Mexicans were already living in the neighborhood and thought it would be a good place to start their business.
“I came over illegally with my family through Tijuana and then entered through California into Los Angeles. We came with a coyote smuggler,” Reyes said.
According to Reyes, many of the residents in Sunset Park are here legally, but there are some recent immigrants who have crossed the border illegally. Reyes and her family now have work visas and green cards, but no one has become a U.S. citizen.
“They come here because they need work,” Reyes said. “If not, why would you come? The majority have come illegally.”
The journey to Sunset Park is not easy, she said.
“After crossing the border, it was hard because we had to walk and walk all through the night,” Reyes said. “We would get on the ground when we saw the helicopters and hide behind trees.”
The family lived in Los Angeles for a month until her aunt told them to come live with her in Manhattan.
“My dad bought a rickety old car to take us across the country,” Reyes said. “It was my mom, dad, sister, brother and I driving with a map and without knowing English from Los Angeles all the way to New York.”
Reyes has experienced a lot in the neighborhood. She says it is a safe area, but admits there have been some incidents of gang violence.
“They are young hoodlums here. A long time ago, my friend’s brother was killed after leaving a dance party because he was dancing with a girl who one of the hoodlums liked. They shot him 20 times,” Reyes said.
Despite occasional violence, however, NYPD data for the 72nd Precinct clearly shows a shift away from the crime-ridden times of 20 years ago. The creation of the Sunset Park Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District helped create this decline in violence.
Reyes, who leaves the store daily at 9 p.m., has never been robbed or seen any violence firsthand in her neighborhood.
Julia Fierro, owner of Maria’s Mexican Bistro in Sunset Park, also feels safe living in the neighborhood.
“Two years ago, there were a lot of gang fights and we couldn’t send out delivery boys at night because they would rob them,” said Fierro. “But now, we stay open late at night and have never experienced any problems.”
The community in Sunset Park is predominantly Mexican, with a mix of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Salvadorians and Chinese. Many of the Mexicans have been here for years and have had started families.
The community is not deaf to recent anti-immigration sentiments in the U.S. The new Arizona anti-illegal immigration law, known as SB1070, which proposes, among other things, to deny citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants, scares many Mexicans in the neighborhood.
“There is fear that the law will come here and affect their children and families,” Reyes said as she stole a glance at her young son sleeping peacefully in a stroller behind the counter.
As a family business owner, she worries about how the law could affect her business if something similar passed in New York.
“For my future, I want to have my own business of the same style as my family’s. Who’s going to come buy Mexican products at my business if the people start getting too scared to be associated with Mexicans?” Reyes said.
Rutilio Sosa Salinas is heading home.
Two weeks ago, the 31-year-old man was caught in the desert by the U.S. Border Patrol and deported to Nogales, a small Mexican town across the Arizona border. Six months ago, Salinas, who had worked illegally as a cook in Delaware for five years, risked a trip to Mexico to visit his family. He was heading back to Delaware when he was caught.
Like his father and grandfather, Salinas spent most of his life as a corn farmer in Domingo Arenas, a town in Mexico’s east-central state of Puebla. Farming paid off during the first 15 years of his career. But then a freer market forced Sosa to compete with his American counterparts, farmers using modern machinery and subsidized by the U.S. government. Eventually, things got bad.
“There wasn’t any work in Mexico,” Salinas said.
In the five years he’s been gone, things haven’t changed. “This year there isn’t anything,” he said. “Nothing.”
Salinas knows about Arizona’s controversial anti-illegal immigration law, known as SB 1070, which continues to take center stage in the national immigration debate. But Mexico’s enduring poverty and joblessness — the reason why people like Salinas leave Mexico for America — remain largely absent in the national conversation.
When the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was enacted in 1994, proponents of the agreement promised it would create jobs, attract foreign investment and stabilize Mexico’s economy. They anticipated immigration to the U.S. would decrease.
Initially, the agreement boosted jobs at foreign-owned factories in Mexico, especially those congregated along Mexico’s northern border. But Mexico’s farming heartland was hit hard. Thousands of Mexican farmers like Salinas were unable to compete with the cheaper American produce, including corn, that flooded Mexico’s market, as cross-border tariffs on U.S. agricultural imports vanished.
The U.S. government also spends billions to subsidize American farmers each year. From 1995 to 2006, the U.S. government spent more than $56 billion on corn subsidies alone.
In all, Mexico has lost some 2.3 million agricultural jobs since NAFTA began, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, Mexico’s statistics agency.
Manuel Pérez-Rocha, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, said, “There isn’t an interest by either the U.S. government or the Mexican government to carry out structural changes to the economies so that trade stops benefiting only the intra-firm trade of large corporations, mainly manufacturing companies.”
Peter Neeley, a Jesuit priest, sees the economic realities many Mexicans face on a daily basis. He helps run the Kino Border Initiative, a nonprofit shelter and soup kitchen for recently deported migrants. It’s where Salinas has eaten for the past two weeks as he prepares to trek back to his town of Domingo Arenas, some 1,500 miles away.
Neeley said that when people talk about immigration, the economics of it, they are not doing the “real hardcore analysis.” He added: “It’s costing us a lot more to detain and hold these people than it would be if we invested in Mexico, and if we cut NAFTA. If you cut subsidies out of our corn and milk and dairy products, you would change the equation completely.”
Salinas had never heard of the NAFTA agreement. He only knew that the owner of the farm he worked for all of his life could no longer profit from corn. If he had found work elsewhere to support his family, Salinas said that he would not have crossed the border in search of under-the-table employment.
“We’re only going to work. I know that a lot of jobs need us, because Mexicans are good workers anywhere, on farms, in restaurants,” Salinas said. “And it’s so we can support our families, and move forward and give a better life to our children.”
Neeley also said that most of the people at the migrant shelter wouldn’t be there if the economic situation in Mexico weren’t so dire. “Nine out of the 10 guys in here would not come if they could stay home,” he said.
Over lunch, Salinas talked about his first journey to the U.S. five years ago. He and his wife hiked for two days in the desert.
Equipped with water, food and clothing, they rested during the day and hiked through the night. Salinas said he didn’t see anyone else on the path, only the remains of a migrant who tried to make it before them. He couldn’t say whether it was a man or a woman because the body was too decomposed.
After making it to Los Angeles, Salinas and his wife flew to Delaware and got jobs at local restaurants. Salinas worked as a cook at a Friendly’s restaurant for five years, earning $8.50 an hour and logging 30 to 35 hours a week. He then worked an additional 30 hours a week for $7.50 an hour at Five Guys Burger for the past two years. His wife, who lived in the U.S. for three years, worked at Taco Bell.
When Salinas crossed the Arizona border two weeks ago, he traveled with four other migrants he encountered along the way. When the Border Patrol found them, Salinas said, the federal agents dumped out all of their food and stomped on it with their feet. According to Salinas, the agents yelled, “I don’t like Mexicans!”
“No one would want to be treated like that,” Salinas said. “There should be more humanity.”
After he was detained for two days in an Arizona jail, Border Patrol agents gave Salinas a pamphlet that outlined the policies of the state’s recently implemented SB1070. Then they deported him to Nogales. Salinas joined the ranks of the 282,666 other undocumented Mexican immigrants deported from the U.S. in the past year.
Despite the economic consequences NAFTA has had on rural farmers like Salinas, numbers exist showing Mexico has benefited from the trade agreement. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, agricultural trade between Mexico and the U.S. increased under NAFTA from $7.3 billion in 1994 to $20.1 billion in 2006.
But Pérez-Rocha, from the Institute for Policy Studies, said that NAFTA’s success should be measured in “qualitative” rather than “quantitative” terms. “With NAFTA, trade has increased,” he said. “But it has concentrated in a few corporations while displacing thousands or millions of medium and small producers.”
Father Neeley agreed that large corporations, not small farmers like Salinas, benefit from NAFTA’s trade policies. “When you start talking about NAFTA, there’s a lot of money going into Mexico from the United States, but it’s going into the hands of a few big agricultural people, the big corporations, the owners,” he said.
Salinas finished his lunch and headed back out to the hot desert sun. Tomorrow he is heading home to Puebla, where his wife and four children await him.
“Life in Mexico is hard,” he said.
Conchise County, Ariz — Bill Odle lives 385 feet from the border wall that separates Arizona and Mexico — so close he can see it from his straw-bale house.
And he’s seen firsthand the environmental degradation the 670-mile fence has inflicted on the surrounding area.
The $3.7 billion fence was intended to serve as a solid barrier between Arizona and Mexico to prevent illegal immigrants and drugs from passing over the border. What it has done instead is fragment an already stretched environment and prevent animals from accessing large portions of their habitats, which is pushing some toward extinction. It has even caused flooding in border areas.
“It’s just so enraging to have this put up, and it’s only harmful,” Odle said.
Odle’s 50-acre plot is located along the border in Cochise County, Ariz. He moved to the area in 2000, so he’s seen the area before, during and after construction of the wall, which went up in his area about two and a half years ago.
“When this first went up, I’d drive along and deer would be ahead of you; and they’d go a ways and try and go south, and they couldn’t cross,” he said. “I followed them a mile or so, and they eventually just went north.”
While Odle is not a rancher, he is very much an outdoors man — his eco-friendly straw-bale house and solar energy use can attest to that. A former Marine and Vietnam veteran, he wears a denim shirt, khaki shorts and a stained white hat. He drives a massive white truck with a National Rifle Association sticker affixed to the back window. Odle also cares deeply about the local wildlife.
“We’d see rabbits — rabbits can’t get through. Or roadrunners,” he said. “Well, who cares about rabbits and roadrunners? Well, I do. And it really pisses me off that this thing affects those critters the way it does. It’s really tragic.”
About a mile from Odle’s property, the wall abruptly ends over the San Padro River. There, the only barriers are sparse, steel beams low to the ground. If they can fly under the radar of the Border Patrol, who regularly patrols this area, it seems almost effortless for humans to cross here.
Animals don’t have it so easy.
They don’t have critical thinking and reasoning skills like people do, Odle said. “The animals aren’t like, ‘The word’s out; we can cross here.’ It doesn’t work like that.”
Odle isn’t the only one who sees the wall as a serious environmental hazard.
Environmentalists warn of habitat fragmentation, habitat destruction and hydrological issues.
“We’re talking about a solid barrier that’s chopping ecosystems in two,” said Dan Millis of the Sierra Club’s Rincon Group. “Migration corridors are being blocked, and that can have a huge impact, not only to (animals’) access to food and water, but to their genetic variability and basically the strength of the whole species.”
Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity points out that habitat destruction is more extensive than most people realize.
“There’s a lot of other land that’s disturbed along with the border wall than this tiny little strip of land that everyone thinks is so innocuous,” he said. “(The Border Patrol) still has to drive will-nilly all over the desert to apprehend these people. … The operation support activities do more damage than the wall itself.”
In 2005, The REAL ID Act allowed for the waiver of 36 environmental laws so the wall could be built, laws that conserved migration patterns, maintained clean air and water, and protected endangered species.
Now, species such as the mountain lion and the endangered ocelots and jaguarundi are feeling the effects of the fence, Millis said. Other environmentalists name the jaguar, the long-nosed bat, the masked bobwhite quail and the Sonoran pronghorn as species that have suffered.
Serraglio warns some species will go extinct if the problem is not remedied.
“Any further construction of the wall, and we can pretty much say goodbye to jaguars in the United States,” he said.
Flooding is another issue. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in the Sonoran Desert area, and the cities of Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Mexico, experienced flooding that some environmentalists attribute to the wall.
“You had six feet of water on the Mexican side of the wall, and only a foot or two on the U.S. side, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the wall is playing a part in the hydrological disaster,” Millis said.
The flooding in Nogales caused the death of two people in 2008. Today, in Nogales, Mexico, the ironic words, ‘Walls are scars on the earth,’ are scrawled across the metal wall in white spray paint.
It’s easy to see how the wall can cause flooding. Near Odle’s land, debris of grass, vegetation, clothing, shoes and discarded water bottles form somewhat of a dam on the Mexican side of the fence.
“The fact (is) that it affects the wildlife, the environment,” Odle said. “You can see the flooding that occurs down here — that’s another aspect of it. But it doesn’t stop people.”
The Department of Homeland Security sees it differently.
“I think there’s a misconception that the border fence is supposed to be a solution to any and all border problems,” said Colleen Agle, public information officer for the Tucson Sector of DHS. “It’s not the solution by itself. We see that as part of a solution that consists of our infrastructure, agents and technology.”
Opponents have referred to the fence as a multibillion-dollar “speed bump” that doesn’t really keep illegal immigrants from crossing; they said it only slows them down.
“That’s not my terminology, but that might be fair to say,” Agle said. “It allows our agents time to respond to an area so we can make the proper law enforcement response to whatever type of border incursion it is.”
Agle maintains that the border fence does, in fact, deter potential illegal immigrants.
“When our agents go in to make an apprehension, a lot of people realize they are going to be apprehended, and (they) run back across (the border),” she said. “If they’re going to have a challenge to get into the United States, our agents can respond. Also, if they’re going to have a challenge getting back into Mexico, there’s basically a certainty of arrest. If an individual knows there’s going to be a certainty of arrest, there’s a deterrent.”
DHS wouldn’t comment on the environmental effects of the wall.
Despite the Border Patrol’s arguments, local residents and environmentalists are not convinced the wall really does anything to deter illegal immigration and drug traffic.
“The nature of this wall is a knee-jerk political reaction to this anti-immigration hysteria that has swept the country since Sept. 11 and has intensified more recently,” Millis said. “What it is not is a solution to any of the problems it claims to address.”
“It doesn’t stop people,” he said. “So why was it put up? Well, it was put up because some lard butt up in Dubuque, Iowa, was sitting on his overstuffed chair, eating his supersaturated fats, watching his wide-screen TV and says, ‘Oh yeah, that’ll stop them.’ It would stop his fat ass, but it doesn’t stop some 20-year-old who wants to come up here, wants to work and is hungry.”
Even Odle’s dog Jake has wandered onto the Mexican side at various times. Once, he was gone for three months until a woman in Mexico called him and let him know. So Odle had to get his dog’s registration papers, then go get him and bring him back.
Millis points out the hefty price tag of the wall in relation to its overall effectiveness.
“Now (DHS is) saying what it really is is a speed bump,” Millis said. “It slows people down for five minutes or so, and then we have more time to respond. And that’s just ridiculous. How many billions of dollars do we have to spend on a five-minute speed bump?”
The wall, which isn’t finished and spans only 670 miles across the nearly 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico, already has a price tag of $3.7 billion.
As far as a solution to the rash of environmental issues that have arisen, some say baseline data research and funds allocated to mitigate existing damage could be the answer.
An ongoing protocol developed by researchers from the University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey will monitor the environmental effects of the wall. The protocol will study its environmental effects, including effects on wildlife and vegetation, hydrology, erosion, species migration and movement, and the isolation of species on both sides of the border.
“The problem is, we don’t have the baseline data on a lot of these species and how they use the border region,” Serraglio said. “So it’s really hard to tell scientifically what exactly the border wall is doing to them.”
Ideally, protocol would remedy this issue, deciding what areas along the border fence should receive funds to counteract the environmental effects of the wall. It is currently under review by DHS, said Laura-Lopez Hoffman, one of the UA researchers working on the project.
Money allotted to mitigate the environmental degradation is another point of contention. Currently the DHS and the Department of the Interior are embroiled in a bitter struggle over $90 million appropriated to repair environmental damage inflicted by the wall.
“It’s a little complex, with Homeland Security refusing to hand the money over to Department of the Interior, because they are worried about an obscure provision of the 1930 Economy Act,” Millis said. “There was supposed to be about $50 million per year dedicated to this effort, but it has been held up for two years now, and the wall continues to be an unmitigated environmental disaster.”
Nogales, Mexico — Jose Estrada* was deported to Mexico five days ago. In three days, he plans to cross the border again.
“When they pick(ed) me up, they asked me, ‘Why you keep trying to cross?’ ” he said of the Border Patrol agents who caught him. “And I tell them, ‘I’m hungry; I’m hungry.’ ”
But Estrada hasn’t always been hungry. Prior to his deportation, he lived in the United States for nearly 20 years.
Although he wasn’t a legal citizen, Estrada had a house, a truck and several jobs. He worked in Kansas on a cattle farm, and most recently in Phoenix, where he made $12.50 an hour working in the fields, laying concrete and landscaping.
Six months ago, Estrada was driving his truck in Phoenix when he was stopped by a police officer.
“This is the problem that (every) Mexican has,” he said. “I don’t know why they stop Mexicans for the brown skin. Why? I don’t understand.”
Estrada is a small man. He wears jeans, a T-shirt, and carries a jacket and plastic bag. On his head sits a baseball cap with one word: “Arizona.” Estrada wears it proudly, like a badge of honor.
He has a playful demeanor and often laughs, flashing his silver-capped teeth.
Now, he sits in a bus terminal in Mexico. About 50 others, mostly young men, sit on a large, shaded slab of concrete in old rows of upholstered seats that were ripped from buses. They all carry jackets — practical garb for those who attempt to navigate the harsh desert and cross the border under the cover of night.
None of these men have been successful in their journeys. They have all been deported and are awaiting buses that will take them back to their hometowns in Mexico.
Aid workers say they often see the same people again and again at the bus terminal after failed attempts to cross the border.
“I always say, ‘It’s nice to know you’re safe, but not under these circumstances,’ ” said Hannah Hafter, a volunteer for No More Deaths, an aid organization for illegal immigrants.
Many deported immigrants will return to their hometowns via this terminal. Estrada, however, doesn’t plan to go back. He needs to get back into the U.S. to support his family.
Estrada is separated from his wife and has five children — four daughters and a son. Along with his parents, they live in Sinaloa, Mexico, in the northwest part of the country.
“I need to make money because (my children) are in school, and I need to make money to pay for their computers,” he said. “I need to make money for my kids, my mother, father — to pay for birthday parties, Christmas, piñatas.”
Estrada’s strategy for crossing the border is rather unique: He rides a bicycle in the pitch black desert night, darting off the side of the road when he sees headlights.
“It’s so dark, and I wear dark clothes so they no see me,” he said. He declines to name which roads he frequents, so the Border Patrol doesn’t “look out” for him.
He said he’s tried to get papers to cross back into the country legally.
“I need papers, but they won’t give me papers,” he said.
But with his track record of being caught crossing the border illegally, obtaining legal papers may be difficult.
While Estrada is unsure of a solution for his problem, he does have a backup plan.
“I need to find an American girl to marry me on the other side,” he said with a mischievous grin.
*Names have been changed.
DOUGLAS, Ariz. — It is now common to see border-patrol agents barrel along the dry, rocky roads in their distinct white trucks, leaving clouds of dusty dirt and bouncing pebbles in their wake. Despite at least one complaint about their driving speed, the rural residents they serve and protect have appreciated their increased presence.
“I think without border patrol, we wouldn’t even be here,” said Wendy Glenn, a rancher in southeast Arizona. “We were just inundated with people and trash.”
More than half a year after local rancher Robert Krentz was shot and killed on his property in Arizona, efforts to increase border security have improved, according to many ranchers in the state.
For the last century or more, ranchers have had a “live-and-let-live” relationship with migrants, said Tom Sheridan, an anthropology professor at the University of Arizona. But the large influx of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border 10 or 12 years ago was overwhelming to both the ranchers and border agents.
Cindy Coping, president of the Southern Arizona Cattlemen’s Protective Association, witnessed this progression firsthand. Coping, 54, and her husband have owned Malpais Ranch for 15 years — long enough to see the influx of migrants from across the border.
When the Copings first bought their property, only a few people made it to their land 55 miles north of the border in the central desert, she said. Then, about 10 years ago, they started to travel in large groups and vehicles. In the last two years, the presence of drug cartels has created a new border dynamic.
“Now (immigrants) are coerced into dealing with the drug cartels,” Coping said. “They’re incredibly violent people. It’s impacted both us and the people coming across, too.”
Coping estimated she has had thousands of interactions with the illegal immigrants who cross the border through the nearby reservation. “We’ve saved dozens from certain death and dehydration, and some of them we just give them food and water, and send them on their way.”
According to Coping, border patrol is now doing a better job than before, but she is still worried about her personal safety. “There’s just too much violence and it surrounds us all the time,” she said.
In Cochise County, ranchers have also witnessed a stronger presence of border agents in their backyards.
“The border patrol has had a very poor presence in the past,” said Anna Magoffin. “Whereas now … (with) the resources they have, if we call, they come.”
But this change came months too late. In recent years, Arizona ranchers, including Krentz and his wife, had been “asking and pleading” for federal help at the U.S.-Mexico border for years, according to Mary Jo Rideout, a rancher from Red Rock.
Pat King, who owns a ranch near Sasabe, Ariz., recalled the underwhelming government response.
“I wrote a letter to the president (and) to our legislators,” she said. “The silence was deafening. It just keeps going on year after year, and we don’t see an end in sight.”
It wasn’t until Krentz’s death in late March, as well as the overwhelming national attention the SB 1070 created, that politicians began to pay attention to the large contingent of unified ranchers calling for border security.
“When (Krentz) got killed, we all just said, ‘That’s the end of it. We’re tired of that crap,’ ” Cochise County rancher Gary Thrasher said. “We took (this election year) as the ideal time to … say something.”
Even with Homeland Security’s stronger presence at the border, illegal immigration and drug smuggling are still considered major safety concerns.
“Ranchers living along the border … face very real threats,” Sheridan said. “They never know whether the next group of people they meet are just poor people (looking for jobs), or whether they’re drug smugglers. Their perception of threat is very real.”
King, who lives about 35 miles north of the border on Anvil Ranch, said it has recently become more dangerous. “We’re seeing more and more of the groups going through, and they’re armed.” South of interstates 10 and 80, it’s as if there is no law, she said.
Despite the threat of imminent danger, most ranchers, including King, staunchly refuse to leave.
“We have a remarkable country, and there is no other country in the world I want to live … and by golly, I’m going to fight for it,” she said.