Illegal immigrants and drug smugglers are devastating the area and many longtime residents live in fear. Some are too scared to enjoy a simple pastime—horseback riding on their own land. “I can’t guarantee there’s not a dead body somewhere in my ranch right now,” said Ladd pointing to his property as he stood in front of the U.S. government’s border fence, an area known as the “shit ditch” because illegal immigrants use it as a toilet and trash.
More than half a million illegal immigrants of several dozen nationalities have been apprehended on John Ladd’s sprawling cattle ranch in southeastern Arizona. Ladd has also found 14 dead bodies on his 16,500-acre farm, which has been in his family for well over a century and sits between the Mexican border and historic State Route 92. The property shares a 10 ½-mile border with Mexico, making it a popular route for human and drug smugglers evading a meager force of Border Patrol agents in the mountainous region. “As big as that number sounds, many more got away,” said National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd of the hundreds of thousands arrested on Ladd’s parcel. Judd spent a chunk of his decades-long career with the agency patrolling the area and he knows it well. “It’s gotten more violent. It’s gotten worse.”
As part of an ongoing investigation into the critical security issues created by the famously porous southern border, Judicial Watch visited frustrated ranchers and residents in Sierra Vista, a Cochise County town located 75 miles southeast of Tucson with a population of around 44,000. The town sits in the picturesque Sonoran Desert and is surrounded by the scenic Huachuca Mountains. Illegal immigrants and drug smugglers are devastating the area and many longtime residents live in fear. Some are too scared to enjoy a simple pastime—horseback riding on their own land. “I can’t guarantee there’s not a dead body somewhere in my ranch right now,” said Ladd pointing to his property as he stood in front of the U.S. government’s border fence, an area known as the “shit ditch” because illegal immigrants use it as a toilet and trash. Sporting a thick gray mustache and a dapper cowboy hat, Ladd said 200 to 300 illegal aliens are caught daily passing through his property. “We don’t have any control of the border,” he said. “I see it every day.”
A 60-foot wide dirt road, known as a federal easement, separates Ladd’s ranch from Mexico. Some portions have an 18-foot iron fence along the border that Ladd says illegal immigrants “easily climb with a pack of dope.” Other sections have a laughable wire fence that has been repeatedly penetrated with vehicles speeding through from Mexico. Some areas have been visibly patched where holes were carved out for passage. The fence is such a joke that the Border Patrol installed concrete barriers along a busy two-mile stretch across the 60-foot dirt road, right in front of the barb wire barrier on Ladd’s property line to stop smugglers. “Smugglers even put a hydraulic ramp, so a car or truck could blow through,” Ladd said. He estimates that around 70% of the traffic that comes through his ranch is human smuggling and 30% is drug smuggling. In the last three years most of the illegal border crossers have been central American, Ladd said. The veteran rancher first became concerned with the unprotected border decades ago because sick Mexican cows threatened his herd. The problem became more serious over the years. “First it was Mexican cows, then people then dope,” Ladd said. “Now it’s really bad.” Ladd has traveled to the nation’s capital seven times to bring attention to the crisis in Sierra Vista, but Washington bureaucrats have failed to take any action.
Instead, the federal government has placed ineffective or faulty surveillance equipment in the region that smugglers easily evade. “The smugglers know the radio range and avoid it,” Judd said, adding that cameras are installed in the wrong spot and don’t have great resolution. On a hill adjacent to Ladd’s ranch stands an imposing camera tower that could never capture illegal border crossers because its view is completely blocked by a sea of lush trees below. The government spent $1.3 million on the useless equipment and never bothered to study the terrain’s impact on the technology. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) simply installed the equipment based on a predetermined formula that separates the cameras by a fixed number of miles without considering the landscape, according to Judd. “They didn’t do any research on the topography,” he said. These kinds of failures frustrate local ranchers, who feel increasingly threatened by the barrage of illegal crossers rampaging through their property.
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