Border danger zone

Published: Nov. 15, 2010 at 6:59 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:19 PM MST
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By Som Lisaius,

SASABE, AZ (KOLD) - Bloodshed on the streets of Mexico is well-documented: at least 23 thousand deaths attributed to drug-related violence since 2006.

In that time, we've seen traces of that violence right here in Southern Arizona. Home invasions, kidnappings, executions, etc.

In most cases, the violence reaches a head in places like Tucson or Phoenix. But it actually starts just north of the border, far from the city lights.

The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge: 118 thousand acres of genuine, Sonoran bliss.

Established in 1985 as a massive sanctuary for endangered species and native vegetation, the refuge has been under siege the last four years. So much, in fact, a 3,500 acre portion of it is closed indefinitely for public safety.

Sally Gall is a refuge manager at Buenos Aires. She's worked there for 17 years and has seen just about every side of illegal immigration.

"We've had federal vehicles being stolen; we had our buildings broken into. Staff would walk in at the end of the day and have somebody in their home," Gall says, referring to several encounter with illegal immigrants over the years. "We had anywhere from two to four thousand immigrants a day coming through this area...just this valley, this five mile stretch."

In one year, the Buenos Aires had five homicides, two rapes and at least 30 armed robberies, a former refuge manager tells KOLD News 13.

That's pretty much the crime report of a small city.

Good news is immigration numbers have dropped from the thousands to just one or two hundred per day. But the drug business is bigger than ever.

"With that comes more violence," Sally Gall says. "So I think there's a little bit of elevated fear in all of us to what might happen out here."

One reason why the National Guard was at the refuge today, literally patrolling the Refuge itself.

This summer, President Obama authorized the deployment of 1200 hundred National Guard troops to the United States-Mexico border, about half that total to Arizona alone.

They do provide a visual presence, though they're only authorized to assist federal agents already here.

"If we're going to have Guardsmen down there, give them the authority to do what they're qualified to do," says retired National Guard Sgt. Cal Young, who worked the Watts, California riots in the 1960s.

Young knows the situation here is very different.

But whether it's racial tension or drug violence, Young says the threat is just as real.

"These are professional people, I was one of those professional people," he says. "And to have them come and tie their hands behind their back is a waste of money and time."

Federal officials see it differently.

"Deterrence is big," says Border Patrol Agent Mario Escalante, referring to the added federal presence along the border. "Once you see the amount of agents and once you see the amount of National Guard...and once you see the amount of technology and infrastructure--then you can see from that standpoint, that's going to make it a lot more difficult to cross."

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