Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part series on a recent meeting on border issues.
By Mary Alice Murphy
On March 10, a meeting was held in Animas, N.M., to hear from residents who live along the border with Mexico. They expressed their concerns to representatives of the New Mexico and Arizona congressional delegations. The only Congressman present was Steve Pearce. He spoke later in the program after an audience of more than 500 people from New Mexico and Arizona had heard directly from border residents.
Erica Valdez who, along with her husband, now lives on and manages her family ranch near Animas, organized the event.
The meeting opened with a prayer given by Pat Boone and the National Anthem sung by Valdez's mother and daughter.
The session took place in a school facility thanks to the Animas Public Schools.
Caren Cowan, New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association director, served as moderator. She introduced Sue Krentz, widow of rancher Rob Krentz, who on March 27, 2010, was killed by an illegal alien on his own property.
Sue Krentz noted that 15 others have been killed "since we lost Rob, six years ago this month. The victims span all age groups, including women and children who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The federal government is supposed to protect us from invasion from foreign lands. At home, we expect to be safe. The borders are defined lines. The U.S. is generous to other countries. We expect to have a passport to go to France. Safety and security at home is expected."
She said citizens paying for government services in this country will soon by outnumbered by those not paying. "Many of those who come to our country show they have no intent to assimilate into the community that has offered them safe haven."
"We seem to be expendable," Krentz continued. "We must live with our loss with quiet suffering or risk ridicule. Everything is relative until it's your relative. We are demanding the right to live free and safe in our own homes."
Frank Krentz, Rob and Sue Krentz's son, talked about the last morning he saw his father. "My cousin, uncle, father and I sat down to breakfast. My cousin and I went out to move cattle. My father was on his way to work on a motor and my uncle to check waters on the ranch. That was the last time I saw my father."
He said his uncle got a call from Rob Krentz that someone was walking across the pasture and that he was going to see what was going on. "Friends and neighbors helped us look for my father." Late that night his body was found.
"My father always worked to help others," Frank Krentz said. "Almost everyone has had incidents from people crossing the border. As Christians we would approach large groups and offer food and water. Even after our houses were broken into and water lines broken, we would try to get them help. No more. Now we see small groups with packs on their backs.
"We have become resilient," he continued. "Many generations have lived here. People not from here don't understand that this is home. I'm fifth generation on this land. You are our guests. As you leave I would like you to take our gratitude for listening to us and what we go through on a daily basis."
William Hurt of Hurt Cattle Company was listed as the next speaker, but his brother Lawrence spoke for him, saying his brother had not been able to come that evening.
"We have had the Hurt Cattle Company in New Mexico since 1909," Lawrence Hurt said. "We have been in Grant and Hidalgo counties for 32 years. We have had more than 200 head of cattle stolen and taken to Mexico. Our houses have been broken into and our guns stolen. We have been accosted at gunpoint by Mexican federal police. It used to be that those looking for a job, we would feed and give them water and help them with a job. Now we keep our distance. Fewer are looking for a job, and more are doing drug and human smuggling. The Border Patrol does a very good job with what they have. Overall the Border Patrol is cooperative with us. They are our first line of defense. We are one to three hours from law enforcement. The Border Patrol we think needs to be on our border, not 15, 20 or 30 miles inside the border.
"We don't have good roads," Hurt continued. "We think the patrol should have easier access instead of putting them in less accessible places. If they can stop the border crossers at the line, it's the only way to stop them. Two days ago, we found four bundles and two people at a gate we use a lot. When we open it and close it, it exposes us. Couldn't Border Patrol notify us? Border Patrol didn't tell us anything. A man was killed in Mexico recently, and the killer headed north. There is only one house between us and where the man died. It exposes us and them. There are things that could be improved on."
Cowan introduced Dr. Gary Thrasher, DVM, who served with the Animal Health and Border Relations, which provided ranch consulting and cattle export processing to meet USDA requirements for Mexican ranchers. He continues work as a large animal veterinarian in Arizona.
"In 1973, when I started my practice, we were dealing with brucellosis, tuberculosis and screwworm in cattle," Thrasher said. "We, in the U.S., have managed to eradicate them, but in Mexico, they still have brucellosis and TB."
He noted that 45 ranchers have left the borderlands in the past few years. "More are leaving daily, because it is costing so much because of border issues. My complaint is: I don't call it a border anymore. I wish the Border Patrol would be on the border, not in a 50-mile area from the border."
"I'm part of the New Mexico response team, and so is Dr. Wenzel in New Mexico," Thrasher continued. "We go through tons of classes on disease. We have an extreme shortage in the border states of large animal veterinarians. We are continuously doing necropsies to determine why a cow died. It is common along the border to find what we call Oxxo poisoning. A high percentage of deaths are because of some junk the cow ate. We find a plastic bag blocking the intestine, so the cow bloated up and died. Oxxo is the Circle K of Mexico."
He reported that bovine TB is going to people and back to livestock. "People working in a dairy work closely with livestock. When it showed up in livestock, the dairy would depopulate and clean up the dairy. When they repopulated, the TB would come back again. My cousin who was raising calves, migrants took care of them, but we weren't allowed to test the migrants. We need to get back like Ellis Island was. When people arrived at Ellis Island they were tested and then treated before letting them loose in the country." He said 75 percent of diseases are zoonotic and come from animals to people.
"We are seeing bovine TB in people, people are catching Chaga, which is carried by a parasite on kissing bugs. We are seeing dengue fever," Thrasher said. "It is concern for me and for a lot of the country. These are accidental. I worry about international threats and destroying our economy. In the U.S. Army, they had a vaccine for a form of encephalitis. They vaccinated livestock and humans. When foot-and-mouth disease struck in Britain, it was brought by a sausage, which when the remains were thrown into the trash and fed to hogs then spread to other livestock, it cost Britain $20 billion the first year.
"I talked to the Border Patrol and asked them what could be done with people coming across with their lunches," Thrasher said. "My concern was the Border Patrol would pick them up and leave behind what they couldn't fit into a vehicle. I tried to get the Border Patrol to gather up the leavings and incinerate them. When picking up trash, we would find bottles of antibiotics for TB. And don't ever pick up their socks. They use them for toilet paper. There is danger there."
He said he used to spend half his time working in all the northern Mexican states spaying heifers. "Ninety percent of the people are not part of the cartel. Give them respect. What happened in Arizona until 1981 was the USDA veterinarians funded border riders, who kept people and cattle out in remote areas. We need people ON the border sitting there. The best way to patrol the border is by horseback."
Thrasher noted the USDA does a good job at border crossings, checking for contraband or foods that should not be brought across, but "they can't check away from the crossings. The USDA in Arizona does not have a veterinarian anymore. They combined them in Arizona and New Mexico, and moved the testing to Kansas, which I thought was not a good move to put testing in the middle of the largest number of livestock. New Mexico has an excellent branding inspection system, but Arizona has cut until it doesn't mean anything. New Mexico livestock services are far more efficient. We don't have that in Arizona. Texas is pretty advanced. They still have tick riders from Eagle Pass to Brownsville."
Tricia Elbrock and her son, Bunch Swift, spoke on economic impacts on border businesses. Elbrock and her husband and son own and operate a water system, septic service company and a mercantile that supplies food and materials, plus a cattle and sheep ranch near Animas.
Elbrock said one of their workers was kidnapped. "Sorry, I get emotional," she said, as she tried to hold back tears. "We've served southern New Mexico and southeast Arizona since 1978. We have 20 employees. We are grateful for our employees and our customers. On Dec. 7, an employee working on the Gray Ranch was kidnapped by illegals. Yes, it was a kidnapping. "
"We have concerns," Elbrock said. "If the border is not secured and illegals continue to carry drugs, what will it do to small communities?"
She said OSHA says they have to provide a safe working environment for their employees. "How are we going to do that in this drug-infested environment?"
Elbrock asked how many in the audience thought the border area was safe. No one raised a hand. "Well, I want to tell you I was interviewed by KOB TV. A gentleman asked me if I thought the border was safe. I said: 'No, it's not.' He said: 'Well, Senator Heinrich thinks it is.' I said: 'Well, I think Senator Heinrich is wrong. He needs to come here and visit with us.'"
She said to Sen. Heinrich's representative that she was inviting Heinrich to visit. "All of our representatives, come visit us. Walk the border with us. We need to get the word out that it's not safe. I've heard others say; 'I didn't know it was that bad.' It is, but they don't want people to know that it is unsafe here," she said to applause.
"During December and January, we were not working along the border," Elbrock said the kidnapping and work loss was monetary, but "luckily, they did not kill him."
They have a set of employees that work on Gray Ranch and "it's a lot of our revenue. If the employees don't want to go, we don't make them. If we lose revenue, we may have to lay off people. We've never laid anybody off. We've fired some, but we don't want to lay anyone off. They're family. This community is small. They need the jobs."
"We were in the wrong place at the wrong time," Elbrock continued. "They needed our vehicle, so they hijacked the employee and the truck to pull out their stuck drug truck. They couldn't do that, so they unloaded our truck, threw out all out all our tools, equipment and materials to the tune of about $13,000 to $14,000 worth. To this day, we're still fighting our insurance company. They tore up our truck. Tore the bottom out, tore out the lights because they didn't want to be seen. We still don't have it back. The insurance company doesn't want to total it."
She called Workman's Comp, but they had never dealt with that sort of claim. She said she is worried what will happen to insurance premiums, and Workman's Comp renewal. "What's going to happen to all of us without insurance? If we can't afford it, we're out of business. We pay gross receipts, which comes back to Hidalgo County. What will that do to our community? We love our community and want to serve, but if they don't secure our border, we may not be here."
"The FBI asked our employee: 'Why do you live here?' Because it's home," Elbrock said. "We are not going to let the drug cartels take over. We're not going to do that.
"We're still being broken into, even with an alarm," she continued. "It goes first to the Border Patrol.
"Can we afford the insurance?" she asked. "Will there be exclusions? How are real estate people going to resell ranches and what will happen to valuations of property and our borrowing power? Go home to your elected officials, and if they think the border is secure, vote for someone else. We need help to secure our border. Put the Border Patrol ON the border, not on Interstate 10 or Highway 9. Put human bodies on the border. We need to double the Border Patrol and have horse patrol. You can't reach them with vehicles or ATVs or helicopters. With dogs, yes.
"If this is what they call a war on drugs, then put the military down here," she said. "We have to work together. Together we can solve this problem, but the government has to help us, if they want it to stop. Do they? I don't know."
Cowan noted that there is a lot of passion in Animas, New Mexico.
She introduced Loren Cushman, Animas Schools superintendent. "I'm not a rancher, but I've been in two districts with serious issues. In Catron County, it was a four-legged wolf. Here it's a two-legged human. I want to recognize our Congressman Steve Pearce. He has always responded to the needs of the community and our children."
"I've been in Animas just under two years," Cushman said. "This issue affects all of us, but more important is the effect is has on our children. It's a big safety issue. Some kids come great distances. We have two who come 85 miles each way every day. We have buses that go in and out of cell and radio range every single day. Students go to basketball games at night. Sometimes we have to lock down the campus. Sometimes, we have to run buses late. We would be much happier if these issues were stopped at the border. We appreciate our law enforcement involvement.
"As an educator, my concern is what are we teaching our children when we have laws we don't enforce," he said. "We have the responsibility to teach them right and wrong. Four of our five school board members are directly involved in ranching, so we are well aware of the economic issues around this. The school is a microcosm of the community. We want to work with you."
The last article will cover the final speaker on the agenda of the session and comments from public officials or representatives.