Tales from the border: Day 13

President Donald Trump’s promise to put a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border will depend largely on decisions made in Washington. But there are lots of people in Arizona who are doing all they can to either stop it or get it built.

In the latter camp are Jim and Sue Chilton, whose property is ground zero for smugglers and migrants crossing into the United States illegally. They’re just back from a trip to Washington, where they met with their elected representatives and told them to help Trump get it done.


 
 
 

                                                           Map of Arivaca, Arizona.

 

Rancher Jim Chilton talks to his wife Sue before heading to survey their 50,000 acre ranch in Arivaca, Ariz., Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Rancher Jim Chilton drives his pick-up truck on his property which includes a 5 ½-mile stretch of border that's marked only by a four-strand barbed wire fence, in Arivaca, Ariz., Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)


We meet the Chiltons at their 50,000-acre ranch in Arivaca, about 80 miles southwest of Tucson. The property includes a 5 ½-mile stretch of border that’s marked only by a four-strand barbed wire fence.

Over the years, they’ve compiled mountains of evidence documenting the border jumpers who crisscross the ranch. Jim, bespectacled and clad in a vest and cowboy hat, hides surveillance cameras in rocks and tree canopies and keeps binders full of photos of trash left by crossers.

At the dining room table, Jim calls up videos on his laptop showing groups of men dressed head to toe in camouflage carrying backpacks through the dry scrub terrain. They march single-file with military precision, treading on rocks and in each other’s footsteps to mask their numbers. The men also slip carpeted soles over their shoes to avoid leaving footprints; Jim shows off a collection of several dozen pairs of the makeshift footwear arrayed on the porch of their home.


Rancher Jim Chilton prepares dinner with his wife Sue, inside the home of their 50,000 acre ranch in Arivaca, Arizona, Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)


Once upon a time most of the people crossing the ranch were migrants. But today too much of the traffic is smugglers, and Jim says they’ve run into people armed with AK-47 rifles. He carries a rifle when he drives around the ranch in a large Ford pickup.

“With the Sinaloa cartel controlling all of the trails into my ranch, literally about 200 trails coming this way, and with their cartel scouts on the mountains, we actually live in what I call a no-man’s land,” Jim says.

Sue, a petite woman in cowboy boots, speaks fluent Spanish and has spent most of her life as a teacher and a developer of bilingual education. She says their support for a wall is a security and a humanitarian issue, and they’re not anti-immigrant. In fact they’ve installed taps on wells across the property for parched migrants to have a drink. Nonetheless, people have died on their ranch.

“No one comments on the cost of not having effective protection of the border,” Sue says. “That cost includes all those dead people, the raped and mutilated, the otherwise abused and abandoned.”


Sue Chilton, the wife of rancher Jim Chilton, dons silver crucifix earrings, as she smiles in their 50,000 acre ranch in Arivaca, Ariz., Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)


Passions are high on the other side as well.

Earlier in the day, we stumbled across a religious service and solidarity march at the border fence in downtown Nogales, Arizona, that was organized by Unitarian Universalist churches in several western states. Wearing hats for protection from the sun, dozens of people sing and march to the port of entry.

Rachel Baker is a Las Vegas minister who argues we should be tearing down the existing barrier instead of talking about building a bigger one. “I think it’s a terrible idea,” she says. “I’m not interested in separating families.”


Video: Ranching in a smugglers’ corridor

Pamela Powers Hannley, a Democratic state lawmaker from Tucson, is also on hand. She says she was encouraged by a recent meeting with Arizona legislative colleagues and their counterparts from the Mexican state of Sonora. She says even some of the Republicans seemed unconvinced a wall is necessary.

“That meeting in Phoenix made me think, Wow, you know, there are some reasonable people here who can talk about doing things differently than settings up barriers,” Powers says.


Rancher Jim Chilton puts on his hat before heading out to survey his 50,000-acre ranch in Arivaca, about 80 miles southwest of Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

Signs warning trespassers line a wooden bench surrounded by makeshift slip-ons known as "carpet shoes" on the porch of rancher Jim Chilton, in Arivaca, Ariz., Sunday, April 2, 2017. Chilton, who finds the slip-ons abandoned on his property, says they are worn by people illegally crossing the border as a way to keep authorities from finding their tracks. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

A photo of rancher Jim Chilton showing how easy it is to climb under the existing barbed wire fence on his ranch along the US-Mexico border, is displayed in his home in Arivaca, Ariz., Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

Rancher Jim Chilton poses for a photo next to a taxidermied mountain lion at his ranch in Arivaca, Ariz., Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

Rancher Jim Chilton shows uses a map to show the threats he says he faces from drug traffickers on his 50,000-acre ranch along the US-Mexico border in Arivaca, Ariz., Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

Rancher Jim Chilton's rifle is propped against a wall inside his ranch in Arivaca, Ariz., Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

Rancher Jim Chilton shows off a combover hairstyle after removing his hat in his 50,000-acre ranch along the US-Mexico border in Arivaca, Ariz., Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 

A drone's view of the US-Mexico border fence as seen from Nogales, Mexico, Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)

 

Rachel Baker, a Unitarian minister from Las Vegas, Nev., maneuvers to take a selfie through the US-Mexico border fence while standing in Nogales, Ariz., during a solidarity march, Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 


Text by Christopher Sherman & photos by Rodrigo Abd

Sherman and Abd will update their travelogue with regular text entries, photographs and videos.