Rancher says securing border everyone’s job
Ron White sees two kinds of illegal immigrants on his ranch south of town.
There are the dozens each day who simply pass through. They are a nuisance.
But others, White says, are a threat – like the group that tried to order him off his horse, or the smugglers who cut his fences every full moon.
The distinction between trespassers and violent criminals is critical to Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who says he doesn’t have the manpower to enforce federal immigration law while also solving murders and investigating robberies along the border.
The robberies are committed largely by bandits preying on people walking north to find work.
Dupnik says he will turn down any extra money to fight border crime if it requires him to become an immigration cop. His concerns are echoed by southern Arizona’s other sheriffs, and by a coalition of 25 border sheriffs from Texas to California, as Congress considers measures that could shift more immigration-enforcement responsibilities to local lawmen.
“We are literally overwhelmed trying to provide service to the people of Pima County,” Dupnik said.
In one week in April, agents in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson sector made more than 12,000 apprehensions. That’s six times Dupnik’s entire jail capacity. Most are quickly returned to Mexico.
The people headed north to find jobs draw predators: thugs who rob them, beat them up or worse.
White, who owns a 2,000-acre spread about 10 miles south of Tucson, questions whether any sheriff would really turn down federal money.
Of immigration enforcement, he said, “I don’t believe it’s a federal responsibility; it’s a responsibility of every agency in the country.”
White, 60, who has been confronted by large groups of immigrants, is convinced people are smuggling drugs across his land and has started wearing a pistol on his hip and carrying a rifle in a saddle scabbard when he rides his ranch, repairing the eight miles of fence cut at least monthly by someone he suspects is a drug smuggler.
White feels no animosity for most of those who enter the United States looking for work, though they litter his ranch with discarded clothing, backpacks and empty water jugs.
White moved to the ranch about 10 years ago.
“When I moved out here we’d get five to 10 (immigrants) a month,” White said. “When they started talking about amnesty prior to the 2004 election it jumped to 50 to 100 a day.”
Now, White said, “My wife and my grandchildren can’t even leave the house and go out for a walk in the country and I can’t even ride the fence line on my ranch without an arsenal.”
White said he started packing weapons after being confronted several times by large groups over the past two years, and that some of them tried to order him off his horse. He refused, and rode away.
Before that, “I never carried a gun in my life,” he said.
“I’ve never hurt anybody in my life, but, my God, we’re scared to death.”
White said every month, about the time of a full moon, someone leads a string of pack horses across his land, cutting fences on the north and south sides of the ranch.
White said he suspects the trespasser is a drug smuggler and that the cut fences cost him $15,000 to $20,000 a year in lost cattle.
White said he feels badly for the struggling migrants, some of whom have been victimized by border criminals.
“I’ve talked to some of them. They say they’ve been robbed by other illegals,” White said.
“That’s our responsibility, that’s our problem,” Dupnik said of such violent crimes. But that violence is compounded by the failure to secure the border in the first place, he said.
“They attack and rob and assault and murder them along the border,” Dupnik said.
“I feel sorry for people who come over here to get a job and send money home so their families can survive.”
Dupnik said he has no philosophical problem with arresting people for crossing the border illegally.
Dupnik’s budget this year is $95 million and he estimated $11.4 million of that will be eaten up by border crimes, including the $3.5 million cost of housing them at the Pima County Jail, which is part of the Sheriff’s Department.
The average daily jail population last year was 1,874 prisoners, some 200 of whom were from Mexico, said Corrections Lt. Michael Schlueter.
In Yuma County, Sheriff Ralph Ogden cited an increase in robberies of illegal immigrants.
In 2004 there were 10 robberies with 25 victims, in 2005 eight robberies with 56 victims and by March 13 there were nine robberies with 128 victims, said Yuma sheriff’s Capt. Eben Bratcher.
Bratcher estimated Yuma County has three to four border-related homicides a year.
Despite the border crime problems, Ogden said he also would turn down federal money if it obligated him to enforce immigration laws.
“We’re not prepared to become border patrolmen, nor do we want to,” Ogden said.
In Cochise County, “drug smuggling is a big concern,” said Carol Capas, a spokeswoman for Sheriff Larry Dever.
“You have that propensity for someone to become violent to protect that cargo,” Capas said.
Dever said, “I’m not interested in becoming an immigration officer, but I am interested in securing the peace of the neighborhood.”
Santa Cruz County’s border crime problem runs more to trespassing, littering and burglaries for food and clothing, said Sheriff Tony Estrada.
Most illegal immigrants there want to get north without attracting attention, he said.
Farther away from the border, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio launched a posse yesterday to fight illegal immigration.
Under a state anti-smuggling law, people in the country illegally can be charged with smuggling themselves in, the county attorney there has ruled.
“I’m not going to turn these people over to federal authorities so they can have a free ride back to Mexico,” said Arpaio. “I’ll give them a free ride to the county jail.”
However, Francisco Lara, a 28-year-old illegal immigrant arrested by Arpaio’s deputies this week, was apparently quickly handed off to the feds.
“We come here to work,” Lara told The Associated Press in Spanish as he sat by the side of the road waiting for federal authorities to take him away. “We’re not criminals.”
BY THE NUMBERS
The 2006 Pima County Sheriff’s budget is $95 million. Of that, $11.4 million will be spent fighting border crime, including $3.5 million to house criminals at the county jail.