South of Arivaca, rancher Jim Chilton checks for stray Mexican cattle or cuts in the border fence, which marks one boundary of his 50,000-acre ranch. He now inspects the area while armed.


Ranchers in Southern Arizona's smuggling corridors used to have a "live and let live" relationship with illegal border crossers.

If they saw someone cutting across their ranch lands, they'd tip their hats and go about their business.

But by the late 1990s and early 2000s, the volume of crossers overwhelmed ranchers and changed attitudes, said Tom Sheridan, who lives in Three Points and is a research anthropologist at the University of Arizona's Southwest Center.

It's easy to be sympathetic to a few people passing through, he said, but when it affects your ability to run your ranch, sympathy gets strained.

Now increased enforcement in both directions makes crossing the border, legally or illegally, tougher than ever. People-smuggling has slowed in the past seven years, cutting down on the broken fences, loose cattle and trash. But armed drug runners still trek through frequently.

"You don't know what to expect when you meet a group of people out there," Sheridan said. "Not knowing who you are going to run into makes people feel exposed and very vulnerable."

So now when a rancher sees a smuggler, he tends to keep his hat on his head, turn the other way and high-tail it out of there.

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