“It’s never been like this before.” It’s a sentiment shared by too many of our Southern Arizona ranchers when you ask them about conditions on the Arizona-Mexico Border.
The recent surge in illegal crossing activity at the border has been the cause of significant hardship and distress for our members. As border-state Farm Bureaus, Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas have joined together to compile the stories of our members – convincing and powerful narratives that explain to Congress that now is the time to act to secure our borders.
Those stories, which can be found on Texas Farm Bureau’s “Border Crisis Impacts” webpage, are striking in their similarity. For example, one common thread in each of these stories is the change in the kind of border crossers our ranchers now encounter. As Arizona rancher Frank Krentz explains, in the 1990s, large groups of people seeking work in the U.S. were the most common groups coming across the border. But today, less-organized employment seekers have been replaced by coordinated drug traffickers. Jim and Sue Chilton, southern Arizona ranchers, noted that there is even a uniform: matching camouflage and massive backpacks (filled, ostensibly, with illegal drugs like fentanyl). A few days later, they will see the very same group heading south, back to Mexico, with smaller backpacks after having dropped off their contraband.
And it’s not just out in the countryside that our ranchers encounter potentially dangerous border crossers. Southern Arizona ranchers David and Tina Thompson had a group of two, again in matching camouflage, ring the doorbell of their home last December. Border Patrol came to the house but ultimately left them there alone with no assurance that these men were in fact gone from her property.
Border crossers also have significant impacts on our natural resources. As Arizona goes into what’s shaping up to be another record fire year, the risk of crossers setting signaling fires that then turn into wildfires is at the top of our ranchers’ minds. As the Thompsons reminded us, this has been a problem before: illegal crossers were likely responsible for the Horseshoe 2 fire, which burned nearly 223,000 acres in the Chiricahua Mountains.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this narrative is that it is a tale as old as time. Though the cast of characters might change, our ranchers have stories from the last 30 years that illustrate just how uncontrolled our borders really are, and just how difficult (and dangerous) that makes their lives on the ranch.
It is not just our border-state neighbors who care about this issue. Last month, border states penned a letter to the US Secretaries of Interior, Homeland Security, and Agriculture, pleading with them to take action to address the surge of illegal border crossers that our members have seen over the last 9 months. All 50 state Farm Bureaus and Puerto Rico Farm Bureau signed on in support of this letter, and it prompted a meeting between White House staff and border states Farm Bureau presidents in mid-June.
While we’re glad that our elected officials are listening, it’s now time for them to do something about it. As our members tell their border stories, we will continue to amplify them, giving Congress no choice but to listen, and, most importantly, urging them to act.