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Carcamo reports: "Longtime locals say they damage irrigation lines, tread on land without permission, alienate merchants and contribute to a sense of unease that didn't use to exist."

A U.S. Border Patrol agent. (photo: unknown)
A U.S. Border Patrol agent. (photo: unknown)

Residents in Arizona Town Feel 'Invaded By Border Patrol'

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

13 January 13


or the last 20 years, they have descended on the sun-bleached desert lands in southeastern Arizona near the Mexican border.

Longtime locals say they damage irrigation lines, tread on land without permission, alienate merchants and contribute to a sense of unease that didn't use to exist.

But lately these complaints are aimed not so much at people arriving illegally from Mexico as they are at the federal forces sent to stop them.

Residents say the deployment of hundreds of agents -- armed, uniformed and omnipresent -- and millions of dollars in new infrastructure have created a military-like occupation in their once-sleepy hamlets.

They point to sprawling new facilities that dominate the scrubby landscape, such as the upgraded U.S. Border Patrol station in Naco and a fortified border fence that lights up like an airport runway lost among the yuccas. Some grumble that the federal agents are paid well above the county average while spurning the areas they patrol to live in a suburbanized town nearly 25 miles away.

Others here welcome the buildup, and even argue that it should be enhanced, especially in light of the slaying two years ago of border agent Brian Terry during a shootout with bandits. But many chafe at what they contend is an unacceptable cost to property, nature and their desert way of life.

"Honey, I've lived here all my life. This is all I know. I thought we were better off before the Border Patrol invaded us," said Annette Walton, 53, as she served coffee and burgers to regulars at her diner, Our Place Cafe in South Bisbee. "We were not invaded by the illegals. We were invaded by Border Patrol."

Innkeeper Jami Knudsvig is put off by the "ominous and eerie" way the border fence near her home is illuminated at night, itsgreen-tinged lights pulsing in rhythm.

"They're like Christmas lights. Just bigger," she said. "Who are we keeping out? Are we keeping us in?"

Dan Oldfield, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, calls the security presence excessive and "a constant nuisance."

Oldfield said he had never felt unsafe, even when his home was burglarized in the 1990s by people he suspects were border crossers.

"Nothing was taken," he said. "They went through the refrigerator, looking for something to eat."

A tree-maintenance contractor, Oldfield said he didn't understand how the agents filled their days, noting that illegal border crossings in the area have plummeted in recent years.

Gary Widner, the Border Patrol deputy agent in charge of the Naco station, says the agents keep illegal crossings and related crime down.

"It's because we're here. That's why they've slowed down," Widner said. "If you have no presence in the area, they'll exploit it."

In the 1960s, Naco, Mexico, and Naco, Ariz., were essentially one small town.

Anna Marie Salomon, a teenager at the time, said she and others knew the 20 or so immigration officials on both sides of the old port of entry. Most lived in the community, with family on both sides of the border.

Crossing the boundary "was like going from your living room to your bedroom," Salomon said.

Even in the late 1990s, only about 50 agents patrolled the region out of the Naco station, 12 miles south of Bisbee.

But from 2000 to 2003, the Naco station led the nation in human and drug smuggling arrests, Widner said, citing Department of Homeland Security statistics. The region saw more armed home-invasions and other related crimes.

By 2005, an estimated 400 Border Patrol agents had been deployed in Cochise County to secure 30 miles of international boundary. The border fence was fortified, checkpoints sprang up, and the National Guard arrived for support.

From California to Texas, the Border Patrol ranks doubled to 18,500, the agency said.

Crime and apprehensions fell sharply in the entire Tucson sector, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In Tucson, violent crime decreased by 27%, despite population growth in the last decade.

"The quality of life for these folks has gone up pretty significantly," Widner said. "They're not having to worry about the groups coming on their yard or being scared by armed invasions."

Though some agents grew up locally, the assignment is "an eye-opener" for those from urban areas, said Steven Passement, a Tucson-based U.S. Border Patrol community liaison.

The agents are trained in ranching etiquette, taught to respect open pastures that probably are a rancher's private land and livelihood, he said.

Still, property damage is inevitable when agents chase smugglers.

"It's going to happen. Our guys are out there working," Passement said.

They patrol a region left depressed after the decline of nearby copper mines, usually while sitting behind the wheel of government SUVs.

"They've got ATVs, horses. They've got helicopters now. It grinds me every day," Oldfield said of the money spent. He and others complained about the agents' salaries -- the base pay of $38,000 to $49,000 is up to 40% higher than the median income in Bisbee. There are also plenty of opportunities for overtime.

Many choose to live in Sierra Vista, nearly 25 miles from Bisbee.

Unlike the rural areas near the border, the town offers recreational activities, employment opportunities for spouses, retail outlets such as Target, and the schools are better.

"It happens to be that the Sierra Vista community gives them everything they need for their family," Passement said.

Widner says agents are vital to the local economy, pointing out that they spend money at local eateries and other businesses even if they don't live nearby.

Officials say they've made an effort to forge partnerships with residents, calling them essential to border security.

"They are some of our best sources of information," Widner said.

Now, officials say, some of America's safest communities are along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Dawn Birdsong, who has five acres a few miles north of the border, isn't convinced. She points to a collection of more than two dozen tattered hats that decorate her chain-link fence. She said they probably belonged to border crossers and their smugglers.

The agents who patrol the area are "all we have," said Birdsong, who favors deployment of the U.S. military.

"Get them down here and secure our border," she said. "This is escalating. I think there is going to be a war."

But longtime resident Salomon questions the big security footprint.

"Don't get me wrong. I know there are bad things going on over there, but that's over there," she said, pointing south toward Mexico. "There's no war going on here." your social media marketing partner


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+4 # cwbystache 2013-01-14 06:53
At long last this is surfacing, at least into the view of "the general public"--there' ve been articles in places arcane that've been examining the whole damn thing within the frame of military-indust rial complex economic stimulus packages. I live in the Constitution Free Zone of that 100 mile-wide stretch along the Border, created when Clinton signed legislation giving the "BP" near carte blanche to have its fun and its swagger. I love it when an agent parks along the gravel road and sets his spotting scope up to watch me as I tend to irrigation problems or check on a pregnant cow ... if I whip out my own binoculars and stare back, it's mighty entertainin' how Barney Fife will pack up and light out! I don't doubt I'm being observed closely from one of their helicopters as they fly near and I'm out on the ranges on horseback--gott a remember to wear a white hat, oh wait, half the men in Mexico wear white hats. Anyone catch Charles Osgood yesterday, when he was supposed to have presented a piece on Mexican drug cartel infiltration into the Border Patrol itself? I don't have a television, so don't know if it ended up being broadcast.

"He turns a blind eye to what he sees from the porch
Families sneakin through the border, yep, they’re headin north
Well, they’re scared and hidin from La Migra, of course
He’d do the same if he were so desperate and poor

Borderlines are tough questions
Down on the Ol’ Bar None"
--Way Out West, Down on the 'Ol Bar None
+3 # cafetomo 2013-01-14 13:31
Hard to wonder there seems little left of the desert, with halide lamps where night stars once were.

Used to be the silence was deafening. Get out and turn off the engine, if you want any idea.

Now, everyone lives in fear of suspicion from behind mirrored glasses at random checkpoints and every diner, estimating ethnicity, eyeballing backsides, girded loins with armaments & attitude. Suspecting the worst, and exemplifying it.

Even desperate thieving Mexicans find respect in allowing the same, despite the familiar feel of being downtrodden by default. A tendency to exhibit humanity as a prayer, for reciprocity in mutual restraint of acting on fear and expectation.

Communities such as Bisbee lie somewhere between loose knit and far flung. Folk gone that far to mind their own business should be allowed. Just because Homeland Security has money to burn these days, doesn't mean they should make a funeral pyre of their peace & quiet.
+3 # Third_stone 2013-01-14 19:01
It is domestic terrorism. There is no useful fight for these thugs to be fighting, it is posturing to keep us scared.
+3 # HealthySkeptic 2013-01-14 22:02
I am a US citizen, not of Hispanic descent. I have been driving between Tucson and Denver at least twice a month for the last 8 months. There is now a permanent border patrol station/stop between Lordsburg and Hatch, NM. IT is quite disconcerting because while some of the agents are nice and ask the routing "Are you a US citizen" and send me on my way, others prefer to inquire unnecessarily. They want to know where I am going and what my business is.

I don't understand why they are right there, but more importantly I fear that one day I will give a terse answer in exasperation or simply say something they don't like and get pulled to the side and searched.

With all of its private prisons and federal funding for border "protection" Arizona is showing the world what fear and lack of education funding can do...create a police state.
0 # Glen 2013-01-16 15:16
Just as New Orleans after Katrina, and other cities for other reasons, was a testing ground for crowd dispersal and takeover, Arizona appears to be a testing ground for what is coming in every state, once there is even a hint of a reason to proceed.

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