Border security through the eyes of a southern Arizona rancher - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Border security through the eyes of a southern Arizona rancher

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NACO, Ariz. -

With a new push in Washington to pass immigration reform, many people are wondering if demands for border security have been met.

To find out, FOX 10 news traveled to the border to the San Jose Ranch near Naco, Arizona. John Ladd owns the ranch that's been in the family since 1892. He's been dealing with illegal immigration a long time. "I have dealt with it for 22 years," he said.

"A lot of people are leaving. I'm not going to leave," he said. "But people are tired of it (illegal immigration)."

Another rancher, Ed Ashurst, said "Nobody cares about us." Ashurst manages and lives on another ranch nearby.

They both worry about border security, especially when it comes to drug smuggling.

Ashurst was Bob Krentz' neighbor. Krentz was killed by suspected drug smugglers three years ago.

"We have this game that we play here on the border and nothing really is changing," Ashurst said. "The amount of Mexican outlaws going through my property is up 10, 20, 30 percent over 10 years ago."

Ashurst showed us video from game-camera footage – remote cameras placed on his land 29 miles from the border. The video shows group after group of men carrying large backpacks of marijuana, in makeshift 50-pound bags used by smugglers.

Ladd's ranch runs along 10 miles of the U.S. Mexico border. "Somebody is always on the ranch somewhere," he said. "And I don't like that."

On the other side of his fence with Mexico are some rundown buildings. And while we were there, someone on the Mexican side watched us with binoculars. Ashurst and Ladd said the area is allegedly run by a Mexican drug cartel.

And an hour after we left the ranch, Ladd said drug smugglers broke through the border, driving two cars over a makeshift ramp, right where we saw someone observing us from the Mexican side.

"It's still going on," Ladd said. "There are fewer people coming but more dope."

What about Homeland Security, is the Border Patrol doing its job?

"We average 87 percent effectiveness ratio in detected cases and resolving those entries," said Border Patrol agent Manuel Padilla Jr., who is the Chief Patrol Agent for the Tucson Sector. The division covers more than two hundred miles of U.S. Mexico border.

And as of today, Padilla claims the agency is arresting or stopping 87% of the illegal crossing attempts they know about. "And that is known traffic," he said, admitting they don't know about every crossing. "I want to make that very clear, that is known detected entries and known resolutions."

But while we spent more than three hours along the border on the San Jose ranch, we saw just one federal agent patrolling in a car, as he drove past us twice.

Padilla said he does not want to get into tactics, and wouldn't discuss it.

But Ladd and Ashurst wonder why just one patrol car in three hours? Especially when there is a new substation with 400 agents in nearby Naco, and dozens of agents and trucks lined up at border checkpoints in nearby Tombstone and Sierra Vista.

According to Ashurst, "The Border Patrol, I have heard them admit in public meetings, that their plan of attack is to secure the city and drive the activity out into the rural areas."

There may not be many Border Patrol agents on the San Jose ranch, but there are cameras on nearby towers, plus hundreds of ground censors.

There are also U.S Border and Customs Protection predator drones in the skies above.

"In these more rural areas," said Padilla, "you have the ability to detect and have a little bit of time to respond."

It may be a strategy that works for the Border Patrol. But it makes ranchers like John Ladd feel like a speed bump. "We talk about apprehensions being five miles north of the border," Ladd said. "Well, I live a mile and a half north of the border and the ranch is three miles away, so according to their numbers they are not catching anything on the ranch, okay?"

And what about that border fence everyone talks about? We saw it in a very new light, through the eyes of John Ladd. "They have a huge issue," he said, "during the rainy season with flood water coming in and blocking the flow of water."

It seems one section of border fence on John Ladd's ranch crosses a normally dry riverbed. But during the monsoon rainy season, the fence acts like a dam. So, according to Ladd, the Border Patrol takes down this 40-foot section of fence every June through September. "They leave it wide open and they've done it every year since the wall was built in 2007," Ladd said. "We have a 40-foot hole here for four months."

As we drove further West along the fence, we also saw several places where the fence was cut, and then repaired. Ladd pointed out the bolts workers used to repair the mesh metal barriers after they're cut down. He also showed us discarded seatbelts border crossers use to pull down the fence posts. "They cut this mesh on this side and along the bottom," Ladd said. "Then they cut around a steel tube and they tie six seat belts together to break the post off. Then they peel the mesh back and they just drive through."

Contractors note the date every time they repair the fence on a nearby fence post. We saw one that was repaired last May 20th. Another one was patched up in August and a third last April. There were many more all along Ladd's ten miles of fence line.

"All these are drive through trucks," Ladd said. "They come through here all the time. We had 27 trucks last year from February till December."

Still, the Border Patrol is very glad the fence is there, even if it doesn't stop everyone. "What the fence has done is deter that traffic," Padilla said. "It slows them down. No fence is 100% effective in keeping everything down, but what it does it gives us some time to respond to detected traffic."

At the western end of the San Jose ranch, across the San Pedro River, there is no fence. Just World War-II Normandy like barriers across the riverbed. And only one Border Patrol agent watches the river a little ways upstream. But the barriers can only stop vehicles - people can walk right around them.

What about illegal immigration? "The good news, the traffic the population we are seeing now is far, far less," said Padilla.

Whether due to economic factors, like fewer jobs, or a much more expansive border fence, there are fewer people crossing the border now, and a lot fewer apprehensions, according to the Border Patrol. Padilla told us, "I can take you back into Douglas (Arizona) when we had well over 1,000 apprehensions a day. And now we are talking about 27 apprehensions a day, that's a good news story."

But for the cowboys who work this land in Southern Arizona the problems remain. "The Border Patrol has extended, expanded more agents," Ladd said. "They have big new stations, new technology, and I can still set my watch by groups every day. They are in the same place same time of day and we still can't catch them."

And according to Ed Ashurst, the worst case scenario is not only possible, it's all but guaranteed. "If you are a member of Hezbollah or Hamas and you have a suitcase nuke, you can land in Mexico City with a sack full of cash and you get the right connections you can be in any city in the United States within 48 hours and your safe passage is almost guaranteed."

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