Car­tel crosses eas­ily while rancher waits for bor­der wall

Fed­eral agent am­bushed on Ari­zona prop­erty

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Jim Chilton has long warned the govern­ment about the few strands of barbed wire that sep­a­rate Mex­ico from the U.S. on his Ari­zona ranch.

He says the lack of a se­ri­ous bar­rier, com­bined with the Bor­der Pa­trol’s en­force­ment de­ci­sions, have ef­fec­tively ceded miles of U.S. ter­ri­tory to the Si­naloa car­tel, which has put scouts on his hill­tops and blazed smug­gling trails across his land.

That com­bi­na­tion of weak bar­ri­ers and few agents ended in vi­o­lence Tues­day, he said, af­ter a Bor­der Pa­trol agent was am­bushed and wounded on Mr. Chilton’s prop­erty in what author­i­ties la­beled a “shoot­ing in­ci­dent” — and which has raised anew the thorny ques­tions of bor­der se­cu­rity.

The agent, who wasn’t iden­ti­fied, was pa­trolling alone about 4:30 a.m. when the shoot­ing oc­curred.

He was shot in the hand and leg and took some rounds to his body ar­mor as well, said Mr. Chilton, cit­ing an email he re­ceived from the Bor­der Pa­trol. The agent was taken to a hos­pi­tal and was ex­pected to re­cover.

“Thank good­ness for the vest, he sur­vived,” the rancher said.

U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion said sev­eral

peo­ple were ar­rested but didn’t give any more de­tails. The FBI and the CBP’s of­fice of pro­fes­sional re­spon­si­bil­ity were han­dling the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mr. Chilton said the shoot­ing could have been averted had the govern­ment taken bor­der se­cu­rity more se­ri­ously.

“Pres­i­dent Trump needs to com­plete the wall and fill the 25-mile gap, and move the Bor­der Pa­trol to the in­ter­na­tional boundary rather than be lo­cated 80 miles from the boundary,” Mr. Chilton told The Washington Times by tele­phone.

CBP of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment on the gap in a wall along that part of the bor­der.

The shoot­ing took place about 10 miles north of the bor­der in ex­cep­tion­ally rough ter­rain. The clos­est town is Ari­vaca.

Bran­don Judd, a Bor­der Pa­trol agent and pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Bor­der Pa­trol Coun­cil, said the area “is one of our most dan­ger­ous stretches on the bor­der,” and it cries out for Mr. Trump’s wall.

“If we would have had walls in this lo­ca­tion, this shoot­ing would have never taken place,” he said.

He also said the ad­min­is­tra­tion missed a chance last year to gain last­ing lever­age in the fight against smug­gling and il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, point­ing to the ma­jor drop in num­bers dur­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s first months in of­fice.

“Pres­i­dent Trump sin­gle-hand­edly and with no help dropped il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion to 45-year lows. We had the mo­men­tum on our side. It was ex­pected that new poli­cies and new oper­a­tions would be put in place to en­sure that we con­tin­ued in the di­rec­tion the pres­i­dent gave us,” he said.

“Un­for­tu­nately, our agency is still run by the Obama holdovers that gave us the failed open­bor­der poli­cies and oper­a­tions of the past. Un­til se­ri­ous changes are made, we will not be able to se­cure the bor­der with those that re­fused to em­brace the pres­i­dent’s vi­sion on bor­der se­cu­rity,” Mr. Judd said.

The area is also one of the few re­main­ing parts of Ari­zona not to be pro­tected by a sig­nif­i­cant bor­der bar­rier af­ter a fence-build­ing spree dur­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Nearly all of the state now has ei­ther pedes­trian fenc­ing or ve­hi­cle bar­ri­ers blockad­ing en­try.

But Mr. Chilton’s 5-mile stretch of the bor­der and per­haps 10 more miles to ei­ther side are vir­tu­ally un­pro­tected, with just the strands of barbed wire and the oc­ca­sional ve­hi­cle block­ade to sep­a­rate the coun­tries.

He said it’s even worse with the fenc­ing on ei­ther side of him be­cause it fun­nels traf­fic straight onto his prop­erty and that of his neigh­bors.

Dur­ing a tour last year with a Washington Times re­porter, Mr. Chilton showed how easy it was to slip be­tween the barbed wire strands.

Like many other ranch­ers along the bor­der, he car­ried his ri­fle with him while he was along the bor­der — though he made sure not to let it stray onto the Mex­i­can side.

As he sur­veyed the bor­der, he said car­tel scouts were likely look­ing down and track­ing his move­ments from sur­round­ing hill­tops.

“Wave — you’re be­ing watched,” he said. Sometimes, the spot­ter camps are on his prop­erty, help­ing route drug loads around him and his cowboys. He said by one way of think­ing that’s a good thing be­cause it means fewer chances for con­flict.

But sometimes they do run into each other. His peo­ple have had en­coun­ters with AK-47-tot­ing smug­glers.

He also said they have had smug­glers do drug drops from ul­tra­light air­craft — one of the more novel meth­ods used in Ari­zona.

Mr. Chilton said the Bor­der Pa­trol at­tempts a “de­fense in depth” strat­egy, which means pa­trolling up along the roads that run par­al­lel to the bor­der — yet are miles away from it. He said that cedes a large chunk of U.S. ter­ri­tory to the smug­glers, who are con­trolled by the Si­naloa car­tel.

“It’s like a foot­ball team. Ev­ery foot­ball team lines up on the line of scrim­mage. Why does the BP line up 10, 15, 20 miles be­hind the line of scrim­mage? You’ll lose ev­ery time,” he said.

He and his wife, Sue, say things have changed dra­mat­i­cally over the years. At one point, they fig­ured up to 40,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grants crossed their prop­erty each year.

Then the Si­naloa car­tel took over and it be­came pri­mar­ily a drug route.

But in re­cent months, he said, they have seen an uptick in mi­grants — con­firm­ing what CBP num­bers sug­gest about a surge in il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion along the south­west bor­der.

“I don’t know that there’s an in­crease in drug­pack­ers but there is an in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple com­ing from Mex­ico, Cen­tral Amer­ica and per­haps the Mid­dle East com­ing through. That, I as­sume, is be­cause they think this is their chance,” he said.

STEPHEN DI­NAN/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

OPEN BOR­DER: Jim Chilton says a fed­eral barbed-wire fence leaves parts of his Ari­zona ranch un­der the con­trol of the Si­naloa car­tel.

STEPHEN DI­NAN/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Metal ve­hi­cle bar­ri­ers bear the scars where they have been cut by drug traf­fick­ers, who have found easy ac­cess on the bor­der from Mex­ico to Ari­zona.

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