The U.S. Border Patrol does not go far enough to protect Southwestern ranchers from smugglers and others who cross the Mexican border illegally, the businessmen said Wednesday during a conference of border sheriffs in Arizona.
Several of the ranchers said they don't bother calling agents anymore when they encounter illegal activity on their property, but the federal government says it has taken steps to boost safety.
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Peggy Davis and her family own a cattle ranch 25 miles north of the border. Their home has been burglarized repeatedly and the family has received personal threats, she said.
"We have a lot invested here. Emotion, money, time, heritage," Davis said. "It's our livelihood, it's our ranch, it's our heritage."
Paul Beeson, the commander for the Customs and Border Protection Joint Field Command in Arizona, said there is much less activity on the Arizona-Mexico border now than in recent years, and that the bulk of crossings happen in south Texas.
The agency, parent agency of Border Patrol, is committed to securing the border and has created three task forces to tackle safety issues, he said.
"We want to do everything we can to stop it. We have a difference of opinion on how we do that, but this situation is not OK," Beeson said.
Many ranchers say the government should stop immigrants at the international border, not after they cross it. They offer different solutions on safety issues but agree that something needs to be done.
Jim Chilton, whose ranch is less than 6 miles from the border, said the agency's strategy is not working. He said it takes too long for agents to respond to calls from ranchers and that the Border Patrol should focus its efforts on stopping migrants and smugglers at the border.
Chilton says he installed three motion cameras that have caught 350 people walking through his ranch in the last two years.
"We need a wall on my ranch. It's 25 miles of barbwire fence," Chilton said.
Ed Ashurst said ranchers rely heavily on border sheriffs for protection and recalled the death of his friend, border rancher Rob Krentz, who was found gunned down on his Arizona property in 2010.
"This is a plea. I'm pleading with you to please be aware of and maintain our autonomy from federal agencies," Ashurst said.