On Wall, Arizona Border Ranchers Want Trump to Keep His Word

November 18, 2016
Michel Marizco
Jim Chilton's family has ranched along the Arizona border with Mexico for five generations.
Michel Marizco
The Homeland Security vehicle barrier extends only about one-eighth of a mile along Chilton's property. The rest of the boundary is comprised of barbed-wire fencing.
Michel Marizco
Chilton demonstrates how easy it is to slip beneath the barbed-wire into either country.

Few of Donald Trump’s campaign promises resonated as deeply as his promise to build a wall.

In 2015, he gave the first of many speeches outlying his immigration plans, the cornerstone of which was a wall with Mexico.

"We’re going to work on numerous things. The first is building a wall which Mexico will pay for. Okay? We’re going to build it, I know how to do it. It’s going to be real wall, not a toy wall like we have right now," Trump said.

That was about the extent of Candidate Trump’s plans.

But last Sunday, he told the CBS television program, “60 Minutes” that he was sticking by his pledge to building, perhaps not entirely a wall, but that the barrier might just be a fence in some places.

Some ranchers along Arizona’s border took Trump at his word, and they voted for him based on that promise.

Few ranchers have clamored as hard and as long for proper border security as Jim Chilton. The fifth generation Arizona cattle rancher and his wife live in Arivaca.

"I think well if Trump can build all these hotels around the world and especially the Trump Tower in New York, anyone, essentially any good contractor can build a wall," Chilton said.

It’s twenty miles down to the border from Chilton’s house. Twenty long, bouncing, slipping, sliding and jostling miles where you’re going about ten miles an hour on a dirt road. The last five, a slog through brambles and mesquite thorns slapping the truck. But it’s as peaceful and idyllic as the gentle rolling hills to the south would suggest.

Chilton describes a border rampant with drug trafficking. He attributes it to this particular stretch where his ranch meets Mexico. The only physical boundary – about five miles of barbed wire fence.

Chilton drops to the ground and scrambles beneath the wire into Mexico. "You can crawl anywhere under the fence. That’s correct. Anybody even a 77-year-old cowboy can crawl under the fence."

It's clear someone already has. Some of the fence stakes are pulled up and the fence is balanced precariously, held up only by the tension of the remaining stakes.

In 2006, the U.S. passed what was known as the Secure Fence Act. It promised to add 700 miles of physical barrier to the border. Parts of Arizona’s border eventually sprouted bollard walls, solid steel vehicle barriers and steel screens.

But Chilton’s ranch is stuck with about 500 crooked feet of vehicle barrier, this old barbed wire fence and no road for agents to drive on.

"The drug packers come up and throw their bales of marijuana or their marijuana or their meth or their heroin, do exactly what I’m doing, climb under the fence and then they have about 20 miles of road going into the United States where there’s no Border Patrol," Chilton said.

Chilton explains that a wall by itself is insufficient. He's offered the use of his property to the Border Patrol for horse units and even a permanent forward operating base camp. So far, the agency hasn't taken him up on it.

Just as the new walls came up, the economy came down, and so did Border Patrol apprehensions. But Chilton maintains his ranch is still rife with smugglers. Trump was the only candidate whom he felt addressed his concern.

"When Donald Trump started talking about it I was elated," Chilton said. "It was really wonderful."

Back at the ranch house, Chilton’s wife, Sue, also voted for Trump.

"Right now we live here in Arivaca on an open pathway for Sinaloa Cartel drugs. We see armed drug packers heavily laden, marching north," she said.

Her husband interjected: "Trump says he’s going to build a wall and he’d better or he will have lied to the American public."

It’s still not clear whether the president-elect intends to carry out his promise or whether he used the term “wall” as a sort of metaphor for increased border security, but the Chilton's intend to hold Trump to his promise.