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Living Under Surveillance at the Border – for What?

Blog author, John Ladd
Blog author, John Ladd
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April 17, 2014

As a fourth-generation Arizona rancher I have a strong attachment to the land my great grandfather homesteaded back in 1896. But ever since the US government built the border fence and sent thousands of Border Patrol agents to the Southwest, my property rights are violated every day.


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Our ranch has 14,000 acres of cattle land that stretches some ten miles along the U.S.-Mexico border. When I was a kid the border wasn’t a big deal. The U.S. and Mexican ranchers on either side would help each other out. Then in the 1990’s the Border Patrol showed up to close down the border, and ever since that’s dominated my livelihood and my life.

At first I wanted to cooperate with the Border Patrol. Then the agents started racing their vehicles through my property, busting through our fences, tearing up roads, and running down cattle. When other ranchers and I met with border officials in Tucson to explain the problem, they refused to pay for the damages.

I’ve come to realize that the Border Patrol simply has no respect or understanding for our way of life here at the border. I spend most of the day mending fences they’ve damaged, and every time one of their vehicles hits one of my animals, I have to absorb the cost. My cattle are worth up to $1,800 a head, and I’ve lost eight of them. All the ranchers around here have the same problem.

I’ve also discovered that the Border Patrol doesn’t have to respect our constitutional right of private property, something this country was built on. There’s a federal rule that within 25 miles of the border US agents have the authority to come onto anyone’s land, without permission, whenever they want. That’s what they do, and I can’t stop them.

It used to be that our dogs could roam freely. They have always been our security system. But when the dogs started going after Border Patrol agents who set foot on our property, the agents threatened to shoot them. So I had to build a fence to keep my dogs penned up.

That’s just one way life here has changed.

We also live under constant surveillance. On my property alone, there’s about $40 million worth of high-tech surveillance equipment Border Patrol has installed, including three 80-foot-tall surveillance cameras equipped with infrared night vision. They’re supposed to be there to track illegal border traffic, yet one of them is pointed right at our house, watching our every move. My wife finally decided we had to plant trees around our windows to try to protect our privacy. There’s also at least 200 ground sensors buried on our land right now, and the Border Patrol hasn’t asked for permission to put any of them there. They’re effectively taking your property without actually taking it, and they don’t care if that makes you angry.

When the Border Patrol’s air unit started coming with low-flying helicopters to chase illegal border traffic, I realized that the days of living with the peace and quiet we once had on the ranch were gone. The helicopters buzz over our house and scare the cattle and horses into running through fences. No matter how many times we talk to Border Patrol and explain that cows and horses don’t get along very well with helicopters, they don’t seem to care. It’s like living in a military zone.

I believe we have to protect our borders, but not the way the government is doing it and not at hugely wasteful cost to the American public. We already have 450 Border Patrol agents right here in the Naco area. At their district headquarters down the road, there’s 200 state-of-the-art patrol vehicles sitting there idle every day. Now Congress is talking about adding 20,000 more agents and spending an additional $46 billion on Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency that oversees Border Patrol. I consider that a waste of taxpayer money. We do need to solve the immigration problem, not by offering citizenship but by giving people who want to come to this country to work a way to do that legally.

I’m proud to be an American, and I believe this is the best country in the world. I never thought I would have to publicly criticize our government’s policies. But after more than 20 years of experiencing the Border Patrol’s arrogance and disrespect, my family and other ranchers have had enough. I want the rest of the country to know the reality that we’re living here on the border: a daily violation of our constitutional rights.

Read more about Border Communities Under Siege.

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