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Ranching problems on the border


WORLD Radio - Ranching problems on the border

The crisis at the U.S. southern border is stretching patience and resources

Roberto Rodriguez stands beside fencing being installed on his property in an attempt to stem the tide of illegal migrant crossings at this point in the Rio Grande Photo by Bonnie Pritchett

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 15th of November, 2022.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up, the crisis at the border.

The number of people crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico is unprecedented. In the fiscal year that ended September 30, U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested almost half a million people for illegally crossing into just one region of Texas. The results are predictable for the people living near the border’s most porous opening in the small town of Eagle Pass, Texas. All this is stretching patience and resources

REICHARD: WORLD Radio correspondent Bonnie Pritchett visited the area to bring us stories of illegal immigration’s toll from a rancher’s perspective.

WALL: My dad had that one made back when I was still rodeoing. The other one was my grandfather's and then that one…

BONNIE PRITCHETT, REPORTER: With hands still wearing dirt from the day’s work, Martin Wall pointed to saddles resting on sawhorses in his home’s entryway. Rodeo competition was part of growing up on this Maverick County ranch about one mile from the Rio Grande and the Mexican border.

Wall is a cattle broker. He buys calves in Mexico, fattens them up, then sells them – as many as 75,000 head a year.

For generations, his family leased the semi-arid scrub land and the house built in 1874.

WALL: I dreamed my whole life of owning this place…

On May 20, 2020, that dream came true.

That night, his dream became a nightmare.

WALL: I had illegals in my kitchen. That night. And we were right here - back room. Our kids were right here sleeping…

He confronted the 4 intruders who had helped themselves to beer from his fridge.

WALL: I had a pistol in my hand. And they laughed at me. When I cocked it back they got serious and they just walked down there to my barn…

Where more were waiting.

JOHN PAUL SCHUSTER: We're on pins and needles…

That’s John Paul Schuster. He and wife, Donna, are fellow ranchers from neighboring Kinney County. He’s a realtor. Donna manages her family’s 9,000-acre ranch, which her parents cobbled together over the years.

Her day’s work used to begin before dawn.

DONNA SCHUSTER: Well, I don't do that anymore because I don't leave before daylight because I don't know who's out there…

JOHN PAUL SCHUSTER: So, that's the whole thing that's been stripped from us is what we had two years ago, just in comfort and peace…

South Texas landowners have lost more than a sense of security.

For some ranchers, their ability to earn a living off their land has been compromised. Immigrants evading capture in this region cross private property, cutting fences as they go.

WALL: Constantly cutting our fences and everything. Why? There's a gate right there? It's open. Why go right next to it and cut the wire?...

Without secure fences, Wall can’t keep many cattle on his 1,000-acre ranch. He must pay to ship and graze them on someone else’s land.

Last year repairing fences cost him $117,000… and more.

WALL: Well, my daily routine was just get up and we sort cattle, load trucks. Check cattle. I'd go to Mexico. Look at cattle. Buy more cattle. And now it's: Get up. Go check your fences. Fix everything that got tore up from the night before, till about two o'clock. And then start your day. So, you fall farther and farther and farther and farther behind…

Between Wall’s place and the river is Roberto Rodriguez’s 200-acre ranch.

RODRIGUEZ: It’s a nice piece of property to come you know, to enjoy it to go hunting, fishing. But I mean right now it's not good to be here…

His land borders a shallow spot in the river popular with human traffickers. More than once he’s witnessed hundreds of people at a time wade from Mexico onto his ranch.

Once ashore, immigrants discard wet clothes and personal possessions leaving an area so thick with debris that the ground beneath can’t be seen. Livestock that eat it can get sick or die.

RODRIGUEZ: I used to use it for hunting too – lease it. But not anymore. I mean, it's kind of dangerous right now…

Fearing an accidental shooting, Rodriguez hasn’t leased his land to hunters for two years. That’s cost him $30,000 in revenue.

RODRIGUEZ: We’re going to the south side…

He maneuvers his white pickup over a rocky, rain-rutted dirt road to the top of a steep hill. He stops and points south.

RODRIGUEZ: That’s Mexico over there. My father was from the United States. My mother was from Mexico. They got married. And then they had us, me and my brothers and he brought us over here the legal way.

His brother-in-law lives across the river in Piedras Negras. He’s been waiting five years for a visa to work in the U.S.

RODRIGUEZ: I just think it's not fair. I mean, you do it the right way. I'm not against immigrants. I'm against illegal immigrants. If you're gonna do it, do it the right way. You know, like everybody else is doing it…

Local law enforcement officials blame Washington for the immigration surge. Ending the Remain in Mexico policy and fickle application of the COVID-era Title 42 rule encourages migration, they say. And failing to secure the border from illegal entry sends a message to would-be immigrants - the border is open.

South Texas residents like Roberto Rodriquez and Martin Wall get a different message: No one cares about their plight. It’s left them frustrated. Angry.

WALL: I tell you, you get calloused. The kids? No you're not callous to them. But everything else you get pretty callous to it because they just tear up everything. There's no need to break the windows out of my tractors. Why would you do it? Just to just to break them? Just to break the windows out of my trucks? Why? And I told my wife said I don't like having a calloused heart. You know to be cold like that. But it just, I mean after a while you get tired of it…

Without relief, could his dream slip away? Could he lose the ranch?

WALL: 100 percent, if it continued. Yeah.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett in Eagle Pass, Texas.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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