Working to raise awareness of cattle theft

and prevent losses for Wyoming ranchers.

The Mexico Border is a National Crisis for American Cattle Ranchers.

The Mexico Border is a National Crisis for American Cattle Ranchers.

By Kayla Sargent

In his 21 years managing a ranch 15 miles north of the Mexico border, Ed Ashurst has experienced countless stories of dangerous encounters, all while observing changes in the type of human traffic, border patrol tactics, and the different approaches of four Presidential administrations.

“The border is constantly changing, it’s not something that is set in stone,” he said.

Ashurst said people from Mexico have been trying to come into America since the beginning of time, but “it really stepped up in the late eighties.”

In his first 17 years on the ranch he saw illegal immigrants daily, “sometimes hundreds of them, always two or three of them, and on a good average day you would see 12 to 20 of them.”

In the past three to four year, Ashurst said he has seen very few on his ranch, but it has picked up some lately and it tends to fluctuate.

While he said there could be numerous reasons for the shift in traffic, Cochise County has an exceptional sheriff’s office with several deputies that focus solely on illegal alien traffic.  He said their county attorney is also a good prosecutor and the officials “have really made a difference.”

“Most counties along the border are not that fortunate,” he said.

He also said after the murder of local rancher Rob Krentz, media attention was focused on Cochise County and Ashurst, along with his neighbors, became much more vocal about the reality of life along the border.

“There’s been so much publicity here the cartels may have pushed the traffic out,” he explained.

“So, is it a national security crisis? Of course, it is,” Ashurst said of U.S. – Mexico border.

But just because they aren’t on his ranch as often doesn’t mean overall traffic has slowed, rather they have moved to a different route.

The boot heel of New Mexico is currently a high traffic area.  Ten miles east of his home, in Hildago County and Luna County, New Mexico, Ashurst said, “they’re getting hammered right now — probably in the same way we were for twenty years.”

West of his place, near Naco, Arizona and on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation“the traffic never stops,” he said.  “And there, the Mexicans pack guns.”

Fortunately, Ashurst said he never came across a Mexican on his ranch packing a gun, but he has neighbors and friends who have and has seen them on hidden game cameras packing guns.

“But in Santa Cruz County, and especially on the West side of Nogales, seeing a Mexican with an AK-47 is very common, so it just depends where you are,” he said.

In the Peloncillo Mountain range there is “outlaw traffic virtually every day.”  The mountain range runs north and south along the Arizona – New Mexico border.

“There’s no federal presence there.  The border patrol never goes in there,” Ashurst said.

Instead the border patrol goes further north where the hills cross Interstate 10.  The fact that the border patrol is working north of the border, rather than on the border, is one of the main problems with border security, he said.

“The border patrol is not on the border,” he said.  “There is no federal presence on the international boundary.”

In the case of Rob Krentz’ murder and the kidnapping of his friend, Ashurst said both times the border patrol deployed the majority of their forces north of the crime scenes. He also shared an example he heard from a ranching friend in Presidio County, Texas of the border patrol refusing to travel a county road, with several homes on it, at night because it was too dangerous.  He even said the patrol would rather the county not maintain that section of road because of the high amount of outlaw traffic on it, but there were families living there that needed to travel the road daily.

Ashurst said the general idea of the border patrol functioning like the Army and standing guard at the actual border “couldn’t be further from the truth.”  One issue, he said, is the agents are protected by a labor union law, so they don’t have to follow orders of a commander.

During the Bush Administration, David Aguilar became the chief of Border Patrol and developed the “strategy in depth” plan of attack, according to Ashurst.  He said in 2010 Aguilar was quoted saying the border is not a line in the sand or a specific place.  Instead, Aguilar explained, it is a corridor that is 30-100 miles wide, a “third country” that lies between the U.S. and Mexico.

“In other words, I live in a third world country,” Ashurst said of Aguilar’s description.  “So the border patrol plan of attack is they have retreated inland 5, 10, 20, 30, 50, and 100 miles and they do not put their agents at the line.”

When Ashurst wrote his book “Alligators in the Moat,” about four years ago, he had a source within the border patrol who told him 500 agents were stationed in Washington D.C. and most of them were GS 14, GS 15 and SES level agents.

“SES level federal agents, by law, can make as much money as the Vice President of the United States and the Speaker of the House,” Ashurst explained.

He asked his source what those agents in D.C. were assigned to do and he replied, “they don’t do a damn thing.”

“Their goal isn’t to go to the border, their goal is to retire when they’re 42 years old,” he said. 

While there are a lot “of layers to the onion”, Ashurst said “what is going on here is 100 percent politics.”

“The reason this isn’t resolved is because of incompetence in D.C.”  Ashurst didn’t point to a single administration to blame.

“This isn’t just under Trump, it was that way under the Obama years — it peaked during the Obama years — but it was the same way during the Bush years, it was that way during the Clinton years, and it started with Reagan, whom all of us conservatives think is the greatest President that ever walked the face of the Earth.  Reagan is the one

Ashurst set game cameras up in his pastures and has captured imaged of smugglers passing through.

that signed the first amnesty legislation.  He started this mess,” he said.

In light of today’s controversy over border security, Ashurst said he appreciates Trump’s efforts and attention, although he doesn’t believe it is necessarily the right approach.

“Let’s face it, Trump got elected.  He was the laughing stock and no political analysts, talking head media personality thought he had a chance.  He started talking about sealing the Mexican border and he went past those guys so fast, that’s why he got elected.  America had heard enough about this, they were sick of it, and that’s why they elected him,” he said.

Ashurst admits Trump has made some mistakes, in his opinion, and a border wall may not be a feasible solution, but he believes “Trump is sincere.”

“I think Trump honestly wants to make a difference,” he said.

But he made it clear he is not in support of a wall.

“We don’t need a wall, we need the border patrol on the border.  We need boots on the ground at the international boundary.  If you have boots on the ground at the boundary, you wouldn’t need a wall.  If you build a wall and you don’t have federal presence at the wall, the wall is not going to work, that’s already been proven,” he said.

Ashurst said there certainly is “a crisis on the border” that needs to be addressed though.

“What it boils down to is the government, the Department of Homeland Security, does not know who or what is coming across the international border.  If you are a dope dealer, or if you are an Iranian terrorist, you can come to any border town if you have a sack full of cash and talk to the right people — which all you have to do is find the head of the local mafia — and you can be in Manhattan, Chicago, D.C., or Big Timber, Montana within 48 hours and they will not catch you.  That is not exaggerated.  You tell me — is that a national security crisis?”

He said while the national news triggers citizens’ concerns about nuclear warfare with North Korea, outside terrorists, etc. “it all pales in comparison to what’s going on down here because they don’t know what’s going on down here.”

“So, is it a national security crisis? Of course, it is,” he said.

Published March 14, 2019 
Category: Front Page Stories

Western Ag Reporter