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Arizona Ranchers Begging for Protection from Armed Drug Smugglers

TUCSON, AZ – As mounting pressure from the left increases to further limit the ownership of now legal firearms, Arizonan landowners along the Mexican border say the U.S. Border Patrol seems unable to respond to their requests for protection.

Jim and Sue Chilton operate a 50,000 acre cattle ranch along the border just south of Arivaca, Arizona. A five mile stretch of that land is separated from Mexico by a four-strand barbed wire fence that offers little deterrent to those determined to use the Chilton land as their own personal drug trafficking corridor.

In early December, 73 year old Jim was patrolling part of his ranch when he came upon a camp used by drug smugglers. He notified Border Patrol agents and led them to where the camp was. The finding was nothing new. Chilton says he has set up motion sensor cameras along well-worn trails and photographed dozens if not hundreds of drug smugglers on foot, carrying large bales of marijuana on their backs. Many are also carrying weapons.

“The druggers outrageously use my land at will,” said Chilton. “Imagine riding your horse through here on your own land and running into a guy with an AK-47 and 20 or 30 guys behind him dressed in camouflage and carrying drugs.”

Jim’s home has been burglarized twice and one of his neighboring ranchers recently moved his family off his ranch for fear of them being harmed by drug smugglers. Jim and his wife say they feel caught in the middle between the Mexican drug smugglers and the United States Border Patrol, which the Chiltons and others say concentrates most of its patrols and checkpoints miles north of the border, far away from where the ranchers live and work.

Jim told a local news crew:

“It’s like living in a no-man’s land. The Border Patrol doesn’t really protect us; they try to arrest people north of us. I think the druggers should be stopped at the United States border. They shouldn’t be allowed into this country. The Border Patrol should secure the border at the border.”

Jeffrey Self, who heads the U.S. Customs and Border Protection joint field command in Arizona, said it isn’t reasonable to describe the area as a “no-man’s land.” He acknowledged, however, that Arizona ranchers are right about Mexican drug and immigrant smugglers crossing their land.

“Yes, there is traffic out on those ranch lands. Communities continue to be impacted to a certain extent,” he said. “But you can’t discount the fact that gains have been made over the course of the last few years. If you look back to 2000 … there were 610,000 aliens arrested in Arizona just look at last year, we came in at 119,000.”

While the total number of arrests of illegal aliens is indeed down, the past decade has seen a dramatic rise in the amount of illegal drugs smuggled from Mexico into Arizona. The Border Patrol there seized about one million pounds of marijuana during each of the last several years, four times the amount seized in 2000. Other illicit drugs, such as meth and heroin, are also entering Arizona in greater quantities than ever before.

For neighboring rancher David Beckham the problem is even worse. Earlier this year he made the difficult decision to move himself, his wife and children away from their ranch, which lies about 12 miles north of the Mexican border.

Both the Beckhams and the Chiltons, scoff at the Obama administration’s claims the U.S.-Mexican border is safer than ever. “It’s a joke; they can believe what they want. They can live in candy land,” said Beckham. “You can’t have a safe and secure country without a safe and secure border, and we don’t have it. We don’t.”

The ranchers also believe, as do many of the agents, that smugglers crossing the border now are more heavily armed and confrontational than in years past. “They seem to be a lot more desperate. The people coming across now are different, they are not friendly,” said Beckham.

Jim Chilton, who comes from several generations of ranchers, said he has never seen the border as dangerous as it is now. “It’s outrageous. I’m a citizen of the United States. I expect to be protected like everybody else,” he said. “The border is not secure; it is worse than it’s ever been.”

Many ranchers and landowners have taken matters into their own hands, making citizens arrests only to see I.C.E. do little to back them up.

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