A haze moving from California wild fires reduces visibility along the border at the town of Douglas, Arizona. So drug runners try their luck at scaling the so-called Obama fence and escape into the U.S. with their valuable cargo. A border patrol agent tells me it’s standard practice for traffickers to operate in a group of three or four using ropes to maneuver over the 20 foot high barrier in a matter of minutes.
As if to confirm what he said, our conversation was interrupted by a call summoning him to stop a climb-over in the middle of the day. He sped off, helping to snag the intruders, though one escaped to the cluster of homes to the north, surviving no doubt to enjoy future riches in one of the world’s most profitable enterprises.
The Border Patrol guard the nine mile long, twenty foot high fence that was constructed in the Obama years. Its iron bars are entwined with concertina wire that is rather easily brushed aside by the climbers, though they are sometimes nicked by it and may end up in the hospital. Beyond the Obama fence, the 30 foot high Trump fence is under construction to mixed opinion.
The Border Patrol says it’s too early to tell how it will work, though one agent thinks cameras and sensors would do the job just as well. The wall must also be manned since the cartels are ingenious in finding ways over, under and around any barrier. Warner Glenn, an iconic cattle rancher from an esteemed local family, says one day traffickers came through his ranch disguised as workers on the fence. He doubts that anything will stem the drug invasion – too much money in too many hands. Most of the drugs come through routine ports of entry often manned by guards susceptible to lavish bribes that are a mere pittance for the cartels.
In his book “The Life and Times of Warner Glenn,” fellow rancher Ed Ashurst describes adventurous life on the ranch, including a conflict with that rare specimen in the area, a jaguar. Glenn was taking its picture as part of his concern for wildlife when the jaguar suddenly leaped at him only to be thwarted by his dogs leaping to save him. There are dangers beyond cartels in the area.
To the west of Douglas, rancher John Ladd no longer has to watch teams of black clad groups with automatic weapons cross his 20 thousand acre ranch. The Trump fence he says, has deterred them and given him some peace. He doesn’t have to worry about a repetition of the incident when a cartel gun was pointed at him. But he notes cartel scouts are still positioned on mountain tops where they can report the movements of the Border Patrol to the planners across the border. To remove them will require more substantial U.S. forces.
Along with drugs, cartel chiefs are arriving in the U.S. the better to direct their product and also to prepare for the day when they can exercise political power. Ladd says the nearby town of Naco, which is divided by the border, has more cartel members on the U.S. side than on the Mexican. In fact he recognizes some former classmates among them.
Longtime rancher Jim Chilton has never been in greater danger. The Trump fence on his fourteen miles along the border has only been partially built. Fearing they will soon be cut off, the cartels are pushing more drugs than ever across his ranch. He has some Border Patrol protection, but there have been confrontations that will likely continue, given that ranchers like Chilton are a first line of defense against what can only be called an invasion of the U.S. He wants Trump to be reelected so that he can complete the fence which will take another seven months.
Mexican ranchers are especially vulnerable. Chilton says those across the border cannot stay on their ranches where they are caught in a crossfire of cartels fighting for the drug routes once controlled by el Chapo Guzman now in prison. There’s a mistaken belief that eliminating a top drug lord somehow stalls the business. On the contrary, his disappearance leads to a fierce struggle among competitors to succeed him and a spike in Mexico’s prodigiously high homicide rate. If anything, there’s an increase in drug smuggling. Whatever perils Americans face cannot compare to the travail of Mexicans in this narco state neighboring the U.S.