Badlands: From Ground Zero of the Immigration Crisis Along the Mexican Border

Tougher border enforcement in California and Texas has spelled disaster for southern Arizona

Winkler, a former Cochise County Superior Court judge and (a long time ago) star running back at Yale University, isn't overstating the case.

Well-worn drug- and people-smuggling paths zigzag like worker-ant trails across their spread, which sits between major Border Patrol stations in Douglas and Lordsburg, New Mexico.

Seldom does a week pass without the Winklers coming upon illegal aliens on their ranch, occasionally carrying loads of marijuana in backpacks.

Eriberto Marquez and Martin Chavira-Morquecho carried out a home invasion of an elderly couple's residence earlier this year that nearly ended tragically. They are now serving time at the Arizona State Prison.
Eriberto Marquez and Martin Chavira-Morquecho carried out a home invasion of an elderly couple's residence earlier this year that nearly ended tragically. They are now serving time at the Arizona State Prison.
Martin Chavira-Morquecho
Martin Chavira-Morquecho

Winkler compares the situation to a scene in the movie No Country for Old Men, in which dire consequences await the poor souls who cross paths with drug smugglers.

"When a rancher happens onto a load of dope on his property, he'll usually just leave it alone," Winkler says.

"There are [drug] scouts watching us, seeing where we are and what we're doing, and we don't want them to think we're an issue. The brazenness is what gets me. The illegals trample our land, leave their garbage behind, smuggle their poison in and change the way we live our lives."

The Winklers' home has been broken into twice (in one day, actually), and their cabin in another part of their expansive ranch has been burglarized so many times they've lost count. They now leave the remote cabin unlocked and empty to keep property losses at a minimum.

"They broke out a bedroom window and burgled our house around noon—we weren't there," Winkler recalls of the two late-2008 break-ins of his main residence.

"They took a lot, including 20 pounds of shrimp from the freezer. At night, after I got back home, I was in my jammies in my bedroom and noticed a light on that shouldn't have been. I grabbed a pistol and slowly stepped out. There were people inside my house! Maybe they were coming back for the cocktail sauce; I don't know. I was very scared. Luckily, they ran out. This is my home, goddamn it! I shouldn't have to put up with this."

Mary Winkler seems somewhat less cautious than her husband of 47 years. Raised in the border town of Douglas, she says she's dealing with the "invasion," as she calls it, the same way as she did with a recent, very difficult bout with cancer.

"I was not going to let [the disease] interrupt my lifestyle, if at all possible," she says, "and I'm not going to let the illegals do it either."

If Mary bumps into a group of illegal aliens on her property while on horseback—a not-uncommon occurrence—she smiles, turns around and heads the other way.

Rich Winkler says, to his knowledge, authorities have never arrested anyone for any of the crimes committed on his property.

*     *      *

Cochise County Sheriff Dever has just learned of Napolitano's take on the state of border safety.

"More secure than ever, huh?" the sheriff mocks, leaning against his pickup truck at the heralded fence along the border east of Naco and surveying the open expanse.

"Why doesn't she try to tell that to the ranchers and other citizens near the border who live in a state of constant alert or fear?

"Why doesn't she let the bad guys know how safe it is while she's at it? They'll appreciate the info. You know, those guys who smuggle in vast amounts of dope and people through our county and might just terrorize or hurt people who get in their way? They'll like hearing that things are 'secure.'"

The sheriff ends his riff with, "Why doesn't Janet just tell Rob Krentz's family how safe it is while she's at it?"

Dever, a native of St. David, near Interstate 10 and Benson, is a savvy guy who quotes poet e.e. cummings off the top of his head, despite occasional attempts to cast himself as a dumb country boy to out-of-towners.

One week before Napolitano spoke to the senators on Capitol Hill, Dever made his own nearly annual 2,000-mile trek to Washington, D.C.

Since shortly after first winning election in 1996, the sheriff has been saying the same thing to whomever will allow him a forum.

"Violence associated with drug and people smuggling is increasing," he told a Senate committee on the morning of April 20.

"It comes in many forms. People attempting to enter this country illegally are regularly subjected to robbery, assault, rape, kidnapping and all other kinds of atrocities. Much of this occurs before they ever cross the border. Competing organizations rob, steal and murder, also on both sides of the border.

"Sheriffs on the border have no interest in becoming immigration-enforcement agents. But we cannot sit by while our citizens are terrorized, robbed and murdered by ruthless and desperate people who enter our country illegally. Herein lies the real daily threat to the security of our homeland."

Dever ended his remarks by using an old trick of his, quoting a chief of the Border Patrol's Tucson sector: "'Within the last year, we've been mandated by Congress to gain control of the border. And we're going to do that along the southern border, whether it's narcotics, illegal aliens, terrorists, criminals or whatever.'"

The sheriff's kicker: The former Border Patrol chief said that in 1987.

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