“The border is that way,” Estrada said, pointing to the wide-open terrain to the south. “They should be defending the border there, not here. If they want to stop it, put the U.S. military out there and mine that son of a b----.”
Estrada’s edge softened as he walked into a muddy field toward an abandoned railroad bed. Immigrants hide from the Border Patrol out here, he said. “It’s sad because you’ll see adult tracks but also children’s. There’s no need for it.”
The government, he said, should make it harder for drug smugglers and easier for ordinary immigrants to enter legally: “All they want is a job to be able to eat every day. The U.S. should be saying, ‘Hey come and work.’ ”
Just over the New Mexico state line lies San Simon, a blink-and-miss-it town along I-10 where a Chevron station with a Quiznos is the center of life.
“Border security here is an absolute joke,” said Drew Haws, who works behind the counter and pumps gas. “We still have plenty of illegals coming across and there’s a lot more drug traffic. Once they close them down in one place they find a new route.”
The route often leads to San Simon. The U.S.-Mexico line is 60 miles away but immigrants are drawn to the interstate to catch a ride to their destination. Haws ducked under a thicket of mesquite bushes to show off a camp next to the gas station. Food containers, water bottles, backpacks and shoes with the seams busted out were scattered on the ground.
“The fences are a big-time waste of money,” Haws said, flicking his Sonoma cigarette to the ground. “They need more high-tech security and the government should legalize pot. It would cut down on all this traffic and the drug wars going on in Mexico.”
Two hours south in Douglas, a ranching town of 17,000 people, fences have been a high priority. Authorities recently replaced six miles of fence with 18-foot bollards and steel mesh.
Sharon Denham, who manages the Jon Ray Ranch just outside of Douglas, said the extra security has helped stop the flow of human and drug traffic, which has come frighteningly close. About three years ago, a man drove a pickup full of drugs through her pasture, breaking fences as he sped away.
A couple months later, Douglas rancher Robert Krentz was murdered after radioing his brother to say he was trying to help an immigrant. Denham, 74, started sleeping with a hunting rifle next to her bed.
“I was very apprehensive. I watched everything that moved.”
Today, the human and drug traffic has eased around her but pushed out to more remote areas, she said. Talk of building up the border more, however, worries her.
“Any more security here would completely ruin the economy of this town,” said Denham, who is selling fewer quarter horses to Mexican cattlemen, who face longer lines and fees to cross into the United States.
“We need to be smarter,” she said. “Let’s get out there in the bushes with them, see if we can beat them at their own game. We need guys like the Navy Seals out there.”
Krentz’s killer has not been caught, though authorities think he went into Mexico. The death sharply escalated tensions in Arizona about illegal immigration and helped lead to the state’s controversial 2010 enforcement law.
But talk about unchecked violence has not materialized. Last month the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report comparing 2004 to 2011 that showed violent crime dropped 33 percent among Arizona border counties. The drop was 22 percent in the state’s non-border counties.
For Sue Krentz, the fear remains real and unabated. She alternates between sorrow and anger when discussing what happened to her husband, and said she and others who fear for their safety along the border now have to watch as politicians contemplate legalizing undocumented residents.
“Every day we get beat up about it,” she said, “when all we are asking is to live free and safe on our property and in our homes.”
Is the border safe?
“The fence was up before they killed Rob,” she said, “so it didn’t work very well, did it?”