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

Standing before about 30 people, service pistol strapped to his blue jeans, the sheriff speaks with quiet passion about (what else?) immigration before inviting questions.

SB 1070, then a few days from being signed by Governor Brewer, and Krentz's murder are what the businesspeople most want to know about.

Susan Tegmeyer, the chamber's president, frets that SB 1070 will make the rest of the country believe that Arizona is filled with racists. "I'm thinking that 1070 is just another nail in our economic coffin," she says.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever at the fence near Naco: "There are good people coming over here looking for jobs, I understand that. But bad guys are coming in and will continue to come in."
Paul Rubin
Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever at the fence near Naco: "There are good people coming over here looking for jobs, I understand that. But bad guys are coming in and will continue to come in."
Janet Napolitano: "The border is as secure as it's ever been."
Janet Napolitano: "The border is as secure as it's ever been."

Dever responds, "The alternative is to do nothing, and that's not acceptable. I expect that our deputies will exercise restraint on 1070. I simply won't allow random wholesale questioning of who you are and where you come from."

The sheriff tells another story about Napolitano:

"As governor of Arizona, she would send bills to the feds trying to get counties repaid for handling stuff that the feds should have been doing. I thought, cool.

"She also wrote to W. asking for National Guard troops down here. I thought, cool.

"Then she goes to D.C. A year ago, I was in her office there, and I asked her directly if deploying the National Guard on the border was still on her plate. She said it was. I said, 'Do you have a time frame?'

"She said they were just trying to determine the specific mission. I said, 'You have a time frame?' She said, 'Three weeks.' That was a year ago."

On May 25, Obama announced plans to order up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, including an unspecified number to Cochise County.

It is reminiscent of June 2006, when Bush sent 6,000 troops to the border for two years in a support role that did not include arresting or even tracking down illegal migrants.

Dever has long endorsed moving troops to the border, as do the ranchers interviewed by Phoenix New Times for this story.

But each of them in his and her own fashion warn against thinking the Guard will be a magic cure to the multilayered issue of illegal immigration.

"I'd like to know what the plan is when someone finally figures it out," Dever says drolly. "I'm sure someone in D.C. knows what they're doing, right?"

Strom, the old rancher and Army general, is skeptical that a larger National Guard presence on the border is a positive move.

"Unless they are really savvy to the sophistication of the drug cartels, I don't think they'll be of immediate use," Strom says of the guardsmen. "They'd have to be trained to the methodology that drug smugglers are using down here, and it's not an overnight thing."

The Border Patrol's Bonner agrees. "This shouldn't be a case of, 'Okay, sleep tight, America; we've got a few thousand troops down there to save the day.

"I can see the Guard helping us with surveillance, with helping us maintain roads, but they don't have the training that we have.'

"Yes, we have seen a tremendous escalation of violence in the past year, especially on the Mexican side. But to just put them out there and say, 'Arrest these people,' is inviting disaster because they have very different training than us—very proactive, not reactive. They are going to have to be seriously retrained."

On the other hand, retired Judge Winkler wants the U.S. military to deploy as many troops as necessary to the border, with permission to do whatever it takes to stem the flow of drugs and illegal aliens.

Hold on, aren't most ranchers deeply opposed to the federal government's butting into their lives, for instance telling them how to run their cattle?

Isn't it a bit much to count on the feds—the personification to many ranchers of all that is wrong with this country—to solve something politicians and their apparatchiks have made worse over generations?

Standing beneath a windmill on his magnificent ranch on an April day so perfect that, for at least a moment or two, nothing seems to be wrong in the world, Winkler chuckles.

"Well, I guess it all depends on whose ox is being gored," he says. "And believe me, our ox out here is really being gored."

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