Pubdate: Fri, 11 Mar 2016
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Lauren Villagran


Ranchers Rally Over Security Problems

ANIMAS - Several hundred ranchers gathered at a small-town high 
school in the Bootheel on Thursday to rally against what they 
described as a broken border.

Also present were members and representatives of New Mexico's 
congressional delegation and officials from public security agencies, 
including the Border Patrol, Army, National Guard and sheriffs. More 
than 600 people showed up at a school auditorium in Animas, population 237.

Ranchers here have been steaming over the reported kidnapping of a 
ranch hand in December, when drug runners allegedly hijacked the 
man's vehicle, loaded it with narcotics and drove him to Arizona. He 
came home "roughed up," his employer Tricia Elbrock said, but he 
survived the ordeal.

Concerns about border security have simmered for years for those who 
live among the region's sprawling ranches and rugged mountain ranges. 
Sometimes, fears boil over, such as after the unsolved 2010 murder of 
southern Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, who was found shot dead on 
his property, or after the recent reported kidnapping.

"How many here think your border is secure?" Elbrock asked to laughs. 
"I say to all our representatives, come down here. Stay with us. Work with us."

Someone in the crowd shouted, "Walk the border!"

"And see what it's like," Elbrock said. "It's not safe. We got 
problems here. They don't want it known. They don't want people to know."

The Krentz story, too, loomed large Thursday as the meeting opened 
with a video of old news reports about the crime and his widow, Sue, 
and son Frank spoke to the crowd.

"Secure the border for your family, our family," Sue Krentz said in 
prepared remarks that earned a standing ovation. "We're demanding the 
right to live free and safe on our own land and in our own homes."

Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican whose southern New Mexico district 
runs along the Mexican border, met with Elbrock before the meeting. 
He attended, as did staffers for U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin 
Heinrich, D-N.M., and for U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. New Mexico 
Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte also attended.

Representatives of the Border Patrol, National Guard and sheriffs 
from New Mexico and Arizona said they had come to hear the public's concerns.

"My takeaway is that the people along the border recognize a grave 
threat to themselves and their communities, and the National Guard is 
ready to respond to help secure the border," Brig. Gen. Andrew Salas said.

Border Patrol has had a hard time keeping its Lordsburg station, 
tasked with securing the Bootheel, fully staffed. The station is 
budgeted for 284 agents but has been short about 50 agents for 
months. A Border Patrol spokesman told the Journal recently that 
there are candidates in the pipeline to fill those slots.

"We work very hard to secure our borders," Border Patrol spokesman 
Ramiro Cordero told the Journal at the meeting. "Numbers have 
dropped. You don't see the type of movement that you saw 10, 20 years ago."

"The increase in the number of people in the area that are smuggling 
people and drugs seems to be increasing," said Lawrence Hurt, whose 
Hurt Cattle Co. ranch runs nearly 30 miles along the Mexican border. 
"We see a lot less of the people who are looking for a job. We have a 
need for the Border Patrol in our area."

But, Hurt added to a round of applause, "We think they need to be on 
the border. If we stop them at the line we won't have as many 
incidences as we have had in the past."

Elbrock and other ranchers say they want to see more agents on horses 
in the region - the best way to patrol rough terrain, they say - and 
more helicopters.

In New Mexico, Border Patrol apprehended 11,000 unauthorized border 
crossers in fiscal 2015 and seized more than 15,000 pounds of marijuana.

"The border isn't secure," said Bill McDonald, co-founder and 
executive director of the Malpai Borderlands Group, which manages a 
working cattle ranch and conservation effort on nearly 1 million 
acres of the Bootheel. "It's like a balloon. When they tamp down in 
one area, (drug traffickers) move somewhere else. They've got all the 
technology to move where they see a weakness and right now the 
weakness is in southwest New Mexico."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom