ARIVACA, AZ - An Arizona rancher says he is the one dealing with the border issues that the federal government won't handle.
Rancher Jim Chilton spends his days on horseback, tending to his cattle on his 50,000-acre ranch that stretches to the border of Mexico, and he says he’s not the only one navigating the rough terrain.
“You can assume that all these mountains have cartel scouts on them,” said Chilton, pointing to the peaks around him.
Chilton always carries at least a couple guns.
“All of we ranchers are armed out here,” he said. “If we run into a problem, we’re going to be a cowboy, not a wimp.”
Chilton estimates 20,000 to 30,000 illegal immigrants cross through his ranch every year, and he says he fears for his life, suspecting a criminal from south of the border murdered his friend and fellow rancher, Rob Krentz.
“We’re getting really concerned now, because the tables have turned,” said Chilton. “Used to be, it was the coyotes bringing people through. Now, the drug cartels have taken over the people moving business.”
Chilton is pushing for more border security, and says SB1070 is good legislation. He allows Border Patrol agents on his land, and lets them put up surveillance stations.
Twelve-hundred more National Guard troops have been mobilized to assist at the border, but he says, that’s laughable.
“We need 12,000 National Guardsman, not 1,200, 300 in Arizona,” said Chilton.
Humanitarian groups say migrants are taking bigger risks on increasingly dangerous territory to avoid getting caught.
“Both druggers and illegal immigrants come along here,” he said. “Nothing is easy. The whole border is this way, and that’s why I think Border Patrol would rather try to catch people down along the road, rather than set up their posts out near the border.”
His ranch is marked by a visible path beaten by the migrants who cross through the land, and the garbage they leave behind.
“I’ve just learned how to ride in garbage, that's all,” said Chilton.
But litter is the least of the rancher’s worries. He says he’s always heavily armed because he has no idea who is coming over the mountains on his horizon.
“Guys with big packs on their backs, and there are usually 20 to 40, and a guy in the front with an AK-47 rifle,” he said. “The first thing I would try to do is escape, but if I was caught, I would fall off my horse and go to shooting. I want to get him before he gets me.”
But whether the crossers are honest people looking for a better life, or members of the cartel, Chilton says he doesn’t want people dying on his ranch. That’s why he has engineered drinking fountains throughout the desert.
“If 80 percent of the people coming across are just good people looking for work, it's illegal, but I want to make sure that they can get water,” said Chilton.
Border Patrol agents say coyotes rarely prepare them for the challenges the migrants face, and thirst is just one of the obstacles.
“Look,” said Chilton, picking up an eroded shoe soul off the ground. “Somebody walked right out of their tennis shoes. Now, how do you think he felt, walking the rest of the way without the soul on his shoes? He paid a horrible price to get into the country.”
Human rights groups say women often take birth control before making the trip, expecting to be raped by human traffickers.
It’s a story Chilton knows well.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said, picking up a woman’s bra in the same area. “Either she was changing her clothes here, or somebody ripped it off of her.”
From this border rancher’s perspective, the immigration solution is for Americans to stop the demand for drugs, to stop hiring illegal immigrants, economic recovery in Mexico, troops and technology to seal off the border, and most of all, immigration reform at the federal level.
“We need a legal system,” said Chilton. “We need a legal system to bring good people into this country.”
Whichever direction the political winds blow, he knows one thing is true.
“This is my home,” said Chilton. “I'm here. I'm here to stay. I'm not running. And though we run great risk out here, I am going to survive.”
Click to view image: 'Pic 1'
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