DOUGLAS—The names locals use convey their frustrations.
One rancher says he lives off “Cocaine Alley.” The more conspiracy-minded dub it “Terrorist Alley.”
And Alyssa Ross doesn’t flinch when she uses a racial slur to describe U.S. 191, a popular smuggling artery for undocumented immigrants that snakes north from the U.S.-Mexican border.
Many residents and ranchers in southeastern Arizona say they have reached a breaking point when it comes to illegal immigration.
Roughly one out of every five of the 1.1 million undocumented immigrants arrested this year crossing the border came through Cochise County, population 122,000, according to the 2000 census.
A handful of locals say they are so overrun that they have taken to rounding up undocumented immigrants on their own. Others plan to show their dissent at the polls in November.
Douglas rancher Larry Vance is going to the polls on Nov. 2 not to vote for President Bush or Democratic nominee John Kerry but to write in the name of U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado who advocates putting the military on the Southwest border.
“Personally, I consider Bush a fair president,” Vance said, “but I won’t vote for him because of the border. I’ve become a single-issue voter.”
Still, Bush has strong support in southeastern Arizona, even among many who are calling for border-policy reform. At the Republican Party headquarters, volunteers sell T-shirts that say “Cochise County, Bush Country.” In 2000, Bush carried Cochise County with 17,596 votes, compared with Al Gore’s 13,008.
“I’m going to support George Bush,” said Iris Lynch, 71, who lives in Palominas, about two miles north of the border.
“I don’t agree with all of his policies. The biggest problem I have is the border and terrorism. If we can’t stop terrorists from coming into the country, it doesn’t make any difference what we’re doing in Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else.”
“But,” she added, “John Kerry would probably be worse in that respect.”
A decade ago, the Border Patrol launched major operations in California and Texas to shut down popular illegal-immigration corridors, leading a growing number of immigrants to head to the United States through Arizona.
By 2000, the undocumented immigrants crossing through the state had reached record levels, with more than 616,000 arrests in the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which includes Cochise County.
So far, there has been no fix for the problem in southeastern Arizona, an attractive smuggling corridor because of its sprawling ranch land and proximity to a network of highways heading north.
Arrests in Cochise County have topped 230,000 so far this fiscal year, which ends Thursday.
With the upswing in illegal-immigrant arrests, anti-immigrant groups formerly based in California started settling in Arizona.
Many started armed patrols on private property and made a public practice of detaining undocumented immigrants until the Border Patrol arrived to pick them up.
In September, members of two armed militia groups were picked up on separate charges.
One arrest turned violent, again highlighting the extremism some locals say is breeding in Cochise County.
Ross, 46, openly talks of her neighbors “hunting” for undocumented immigrants but says she does not condone it. She says many of the voters in the border town of Douglas are actually liberal, although those in the rural, outlying areas of Cochise County tend to vote Republican.
Of the more than 14,000 Douglas residents in the 2000 census, more than 85 percent were identified as Hispanic.
Ross says she’s voting for Kerry, citing a host of issues, particularly the war in Iraq. She said the increase in the number of Border Patrol agents stationed in Cochise County, now more than 850, has helped boost the local economy but has not stopped illegal immigration by any stretch of the imagination.
“They’re just destroying some areas down here,” she said of the wave of undocumented immigrants. “The government’s got to do something about it. What Bush is doing isn’t working.”
Gary Ackley, 58, and his family have lived on 41 acres outside Douglas for 10 years.
Ackley said he never hesitates to call the Border Patrol when he finds immigrants on his property.
Sometimes, he said, he feels sorry for them, but he draws a line.
He said he also feels sorry for ranchers, who must deal with people cutting down their fences.
While Ackley does not fully agree with Kerry on immigration, he and his wife, Bonnie, both plan to vote for him. Kerry has said in interviews that he supports legalization for undocumented immigrants already in the United States, estimated conservatively to number between 9 million and 11 million.
Ackley, a Vietnam veteran, opposes amnesty. He also opposes U.S. jobs going south of the border, which he said was a byproduct of the Bush administration’s trade policies.
“Mr. Bush wants jobs to go that way,” he said, pointing out his bay window toward the border with Mexico. Then, pointing north, he said, “Mr. Kerry wants jobs to go this way.”
Ray Ybarra, 25, is voting based on the immigration issue.
Ybarra, whose family has lived in Douglas for two generations, said he doesn’t like Bush or Kerry. He’s voting for Ralph Nader.
“Kerry is using undocumented immigrants to show he is strong on security and strong on crime, so he’s trying to reinforce everybody’s level of security on the backs of undocumented immigrants,” Ybarra said.
“It’s not worth me voting for the lesser of two evils. I’m going to vote my conscience.”
Also on November’s ballot is Proposition 200, known as Protect Arizona Now, which requires state and local government employees to check the immigration status of anyone applying for non-federally mandated state services. It also would require proof of citizenship to register to vote and an ID when voting in person.
Vance, who said his father immigrated from Mexico legally, has lived on 40 acres just north of the border for nearly 30 years.
The 48-year-old has stopped trying to mend his fence because it has been cut down so many times by immigrants and smugglers, he said.
Vance has waited on the border as immigration-reform bills have gone nowhere in Washington. He took issue with Bush’s January guest-worker proposal, under which foreign workers could be imported if no American could be found to fill a job. The proposal also would offer undocumented immigrants already in the United States the chance to work legally on temporary visas.
“I think that guest-worker program was one of the stupidest damn things I’ve ever seen,” Vance said.
“Allowing illegal aliens to stay here, all that does is perpetuate the problem. It tells the rest of the world we’re really not serious. If you get past the first 30 kilometers, you’ve got it made. You’re home-free.”