Several ranchers say there are plenty of Border Patrol agents – even too many – but they’re deployed in the wrong places, usually away from the border.
Most Border Patrol agents staff checkpoints many miles inland.
“We don’t need more Border Patrol agents. We just need to put them on the international boundary,” said rancher John Ladd, whose family has been on his 14,000-acre spread near Naco in southeast Arizona for 118 years.
Ladd is among a handful of established ranchers who are unhappy with how Border Patrol vehicles zoom across their ranches, ripping up roads and tearing down fences, but rarely staying at the border itself.
They say legislators in Washington keep funding more agents and better technology _ such as abundant ground sensors and infrared cameras _ but fail to put the agents at the border to catch those coming across.
Opinion is far from unified in the ranching community, but it doesn’t take much effort to find ranchers, like Ladd, who say Border Patrol agents inflict heavy damage to their spreads.
Ladd said agents aboard three-quarter-ton pickups whizzed around the 37 miles of private road on his ranch around the clock.
“We’ve got 25 trucks a day doing that circuit. You’ve got to do maintenance once a month on it. You have to grade it,” he said, or it turns “rutted and corduroy.”
Ladd is particularly unhappy that agents harm his fences.
“They cut them, run through them, run over water troughs. They like driving cross-country, making roads,” he said. Repairing the damage is costly. “About 30 percent of my annual income is spent on border issues – illegals and Border Patrol – damage issues.”
At one corner of his ranch, the Border Patrol has posted a flatbed trailer with a telescoping boom topped with an infrared camera. An agent sits inside a cabin on the flatbed monitoring the border, Ladd said. Scattered elsewhere on the ranch are 200 to 300 ground sensors, he added.
The problem, Ladd said, is that there aren’t enough agents at the border when drug smugglers or migrants penetrate, touching off sensors. He said the smugglers used motorized saws with carbide blades to rip big holes through the steel mesh border fence. They can cut the holes in minutes, he said.
In most cases, the holes are large enough to allow a pickup loaded with narcotics to drive through. Ladd said smugglers had done so 46 times on his property in recent years, and that Border Patrol agents had intercepted them only once.
For his part, rancher Ed Ashurst got fed up with repairing gravel roads on the property he manages.
“You’ll see an agent driving down a road that you ought to be driving 20 miles an hour on and he’s flying down at 50 or 60 miles an hour. They just tear stuff up,” Ashurst said.
One particular incident proved too much.
“They ran into a couple of cows that belonged to me, and they wouldn’t pay for them. So I kicked them off,” Ashurst said.
Since Ashurst manages a ranch that sprawls over 53,000 acres on the border with Mexico, he presumed that his move would draw serious consequences.