PHOENIX - Rancher Dan Bell has come face to face with drug smugglers on his border-area cattle ranch and found the bodies of illegal immigrants who died of exposure on his property, and a Border Patrol agent was killed in December about five miles from his home.
Bell, 42, has had about enough.
He and a group of other Southern Arizona ranchers visited the Legislature in Phoenix on Thursday to explain to lawmakers how dire the situation is on their properties and to ask that something be done.
In response, a Senate committee voted 6-1 to pass a bill supporting the ranchers' plan to "restore our border," also known as ROB's plan. It was named for rancher Robert Krentz, who authorities believe was killed by an illegal immigrant on his land last year.
"We need help down here," Bell told The Associated Press after he spoke to the committee. "The place has just gotten out of hand."
Bell was friends with Krentz and said the rancher's death shook him and other cattlemen whose properties have become the crossing ground for illegal immigrants and violent drug smugglers.
Bell's family has owned its ranch just west of Nogales since the late 1930s. They began seeing violence in the mid-1990s when the government secured the border in California and Texas, funneling traffic to Arizona and ultimately making it the busiest illegal-crossing point along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
On Bell's property is a memorial to Border Patrol Agent Alexander Kirpnick, who was shot and killed by two drug smugglers on the ranch in 1998 as he tried to arrest them.
Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, 40, was killed in a shootout with border bandits Dec. 14 about five miles north of Bell's ranch. Six people were arrested.
Krentz's killing was 90 miles away, but it still hit close to home for Bell and his wife and children, who all live on the family ranch.
"Those are all constant reminders," Bell said. "It's in the back of your mind sometimes. We will never forget."
The ranchers' plan calls for military units to deploy to the border, the addition of 3,000 Border Patrol agents, stepped-up video surveillance and other technology, and the establishment of citizen advisory boards, among other goals.
"A lot of the plan is reliant on the federal government," said Mike Philipsen, a spokesman for Senate Republicans. "There's only so much the state can do."
Philipsen stopped short of calling Thursday's vote symbolic.
"You can still hold feet to the fire in Congress and say, 'Let's get some of this done,' " he said. "And part of the plan is to get people talking about this. It's a way to say, 'Let's get moving.' "
The ranchers came up with the plan last year after Krentz was killed.
Those in the federal government have said the border has never been more secure.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said that under President Obama, the Border Patrol has an all-time high of 20,500 agents, and 1,200 National Guard troops have been dispatched to the border. The troops have no arrest power.