Jim Chilton is a fifth-generation rancher in Arizona that finds himself on the front lines of the battle of border security and illegal immigration. He and his wife, Sue live it daily.
The 79-year-old owns and tends a 50,000-acre ranch situated on the U.S.-Mexico border and his property has become a hotspot for illegal aliens crossing into the country. Unlike the heavily fortified border fence in Arizona, the only barriers separating the Chilton ranch from the Mexican border are four strands of rusty barbed wire strung along steel posts.
While tending his cattle, Chilton states he packs no less than two guns and at least 5 gallons of water. The pistol and rifle are to help him ward off the drug smugglers, mules, and human traffickers, or coyotes as they are also known, as they continuously breach the border through his land.
The water is for thirsty border crossers lured by the promise of American jobs and a better life. Chilton states that it used to be that border crossers were simply part of the normal rhythm of everyday life on their ranch. People would come and go freely between the Mexican state of Sonora and Arizona to and from work.
Chilton states: “You’d feed them and give them water and directions.”
The rancher remarked that he has noticed a recent uptick in the number of individuals attempting to use his ranch to enter the country illegally for nefarious means as well. It was not always that way he says.
The early 2000s saw a marked shift as traffic increased significantly in overwhelming numbers, both for the region itself and for its ranchers. Approximately two years ago the migrant traffic slowed to a near halt, and a massive increase in drug smugglers and human traffickers began to flood across the border onto the Chilton ranch.
Now Sue states they are much more guarded about offering any assistance, stating: “At this point, I’m not opening the door except in the rarest of cases.” The danger is simply too great.
As the national debate rages hot over border security and illegal immigration, the Chiltons are living the reality of it. As a result, they have developed a bit more of a nuanced view, attempting to balance their desire for security and protecting America’s borders with the reality of desperate people – men, women, and children alike – wandering across their land starving and parched from the unforgiving desert sun.
Chilton says he does not understand why building a wall to fortify the border is even a question.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Chilton states that:
“Although he respects the Border Patrol agents in the region, he said, he doesn’t understand why they won’t fortify and build a substantial border fence along the Arivaca region, including the five miles of international boundary alongside his ranch.
“It’s inhumane, he said, to allow border crossers to walk in easily through the border, putting their lives at risk from cold nights and hot days. Many are apprehended farther inland anyway.
“The border should be secured at the border,” he said.”
“The couple lament a recently shuttered Border Patrol outpost, the agency’s only significant presence in that area. The outpost, which operated near the ranch, was closed because of budget cuts.
“The couple have even offered to lease 20 acres of their land — about 500 yards from the border — to Border Patrol officials for $1 a year for an outpost. They said the government had not taken them up on the offer.”
The couple states they believe in some sort of guest worker program similar to the federal program previously in place in the 1940s when temporary Mexican laborers were legally allowed to work in the United States. There were no cartels to pay. No human traffickers. No dying in the desert.
At least two neighboring ranchers have chosen to leave rather than continue to fight in the last few years because of just how dangerous the border security situation has gotten. However, the Chiltons state they intend to stay on their land, though it has proven very costly for them to do so.
The cost of maintaining water lines, as well as the international fence to repair it from all the slashing and trampling it undergoes, costs them thousands of dollars in repairs.
Sue states: “We have to maintain the fence or the cattle would all go to Mexico, y no habla español.”
“She gazed out at the trails on the other side of the measly fence, which stretches 15 miles east until it hooks up with an actual border wall in Nogales. She pointed out a network of trails that scar a hill on the Mexican side. It zigzags, leading toward the international fence on the Chilton’s ranch,” reports the LA Times.
“It’s almost as though we have ceded a swath of this United States of America… It has been ceded to operational control of the cartels,” she said.”