Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Border security dispute only part of Bootheel’s story

By Lauren Villagran
Beware those stories from the border, especially from that corner of New Mexico called the Bootheel, that sketch a black-and-white picture. Ranchers outraged over border security. Sportsmen riled over access to public lands. Border Patrol struggling with a lack of resources.
I’ve written these stories, and they have been true, but they have left out some fundamental knowledge: that the border is at best a fuzzy gray line where two countries and two peoples rub shoulders, sometimes cozily, sometimes not, and things are rarely simple.
A Bootheel rancher whose place has been broken into multiple times in recent years and who has spoken out about border security problems keeps bread, bologna and water bottles in an outdoor refrigerator.

The fridge was there in the past for migrants heading north in search of work. Now the fridge is more often raided by drug mules after they’ve trekked the Bootheel’s rugged mountains for days, dropped off their loads and are heading back to Mexico hungry and parched.

A Border Patrol agent tells me: “That rancher complains about security, but just when we are about to catch drug mules who have become tired and weak, they refuel at the rancher’s watering hole.”

The rancher tells me: “That’s the way I was raised. Just feed ’em and water ’em and send them on their way.”

It was the good Samaritan thing to do when you knew the people were poor and desperate and looking for work. Now it’s a safety precaution so the drug runners – potentially armed – don’t break into homes to steal food...

...A sheriff’s deputy talks about the drug scourge and the effort it takes to intercept the loads carried by these drug mules. Then he marvels for a moment at the backpackers’ perseverance. He uses the word “amazing.”

He has seen them literally sprint the last mile to the interstate after walking seven days over perilous mountain ridges carrying 50-pound sacks of dope – including at night, with no flashlight. He is tasked with helping apprehend guys like these, but you can hear something like respect in his voice.


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