The orange, purple rays from the sun begin to set over the hills of the Sonoran Desert. Though it is reminiscent of the Rio Grande Valley's Starr County, a combination of saguaro cacti and mesquites trees are native to Santa Cruz County, the heart of the Arizona-Sonora border. There you TMll find Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office deputies Jose Bustamante and Luis Martinez. That night, their patrol takes them to Buena Vista Ranch, a place so desolate and dangerous, that they are required to patrol it in pairs, and where bulletproof vests are mandatory. "One thing that's really helping us out is this barrier fence you see right behind me here, which stops these people, illegals," Martinez said. He has worked for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office for over a decade.
Since then, human and drug smuggling have become such a major problem that stronger, impenetrable fencing has started to replace the old one. Throughout many miles of the Arizona boundary, large, horizontal steel beams supported by X-like structures.
They are vehicle barriers, set about 10 feet apart.
But for a person walking, the challenge of crossing it does not exist. It is as simple as walking under the horizontal beam.
And in yet more remote areas, barbed wire makes up the international border.
Given the ease it takes to cross them, Federal and local agencies must then rely on manpower to help protect the line.
"For us it TMs difficult, almost impossible to be able to do that, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada told Action 4 News. We can have some impact, but very little impact, on what happens in the rural areas."
The longtime sheriff himself admits the problem has gotten out of hand. He leads over 40 deputies in his deparment, but he said they are constantly overwhelmed.
"We TMre finding bodies, people are getting killed, people are getting assaulted, people are getting raped he said. There a lot of things that are happening, people are just dying from the weather." He added that cooperation between his deputies and agencies like Border Patrol are smooth and at an all time high. But he claims it is not enough. "We TMre trying to keep up pace with other agencies that have a lot more technology, a lot more training and resources," he said. Relief for them is under way: A new, 10 million dollar initiative announced by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last month.
The Border Security Enhancement Program uses federal stimulus money to help out agencies, like Santa Cruz County, to help safeguard Arizona's 370 mile border with Mexico. They plan on using the money to purchase new units, weapons, ammunition and even radios to help them stay better connected. Back out on the field, surrounded by the darkness of the Sonoran Desert, Deputies Bustamante and Martinez finish up their patrol of the area. It is another day on the job, as they try to patch up a broken border. Meanwhile, Sheriff Estrada will continue to do work, as he has done for many decades, to keep Santa Cruz County safe. He states he is against the controversial immigration bill signed into law last month, adding that Senate Bill 1070 is not the solution, but instead it creates more complications for them. As far as the arrival of National Guard troops, he welcomes any additional manpower that'll help take the strain off of his department.