Wave after wave – night after night and day after day.
It’s a familiar sight for some ranchers along the Mexico-Arizona border: heavily armed drug and human smugglers.
They cross into the state, traveling on foot for miles and carrying their load on their backs – the drugs inside could be worth millions.
The smugglers will do whatever it takes to get it to its destination.
That’s why rancher Jim Chilton wants a border wall completed along the country’s southern boundary with Mexico.
“The Sinaloa cartel has cartel scouts on our mountains and they essentially control the area,” he said.
You have to see Chilton’s surveillance video to believe it. His hidden motion-sensor-activated cameras have captured hundreds of smugglers crossing. Often they’re geared up with high tech equipment, military grade satellite phones, radios and binoculars.
“We’ve seen cartel guys with AK-47’s and 20 guys packing drugs behind them. It can be pretty scary,” said Chilton.
And he’s come face to face with them.
“We have had MS13 (Mara Salvatrucha 13) standing in our front yard, with all the teardrops and stuff. It’s pretty scary and with my wife at home by herself its worrisome,” said Chilton. “I’ve had as many as 17 drug packers standing in my front yard. I looked out the peep hole, took my rifle, stepped out like this, ‘agua...agua.’ I go over, turn the hose on, everybody gets a drink of water and I say, ‘adios’ and they go on.”
Out of Chilton’s 50,000 acres, five and a half miles of it touches Mexico.
The fence that borders his property, which has been standing for around 100 years, was redone 50 years ago. However, it’s made only of barbwire fencing and steel posts.
That’s the only thing that separates the U.S. and Mexico for about 25 miles.
So when it comes to a border wall, yes, he wants it built – and this video proves why.
“This whole area, on my ranch and my neighbor’s ranch, ceded to the Sinaloa cartel,” Chilton said.
Chilton voted for Donald Trump because of his border wall plan.
But before you judge him or jump to any conclusions, there’s so much more to this know about this 77-year-old man.
“I grew up ranching. By the time I was 18, I thought I knew everything about it, which was untrue about it,” said Chilton. “And then I went off to ASU university.”
Chilton has two master’s degrees, one in economics and the other in political science.
In 1987, he decided to give up his financial career and bought what is now known as the Chilton ranch.
Here, along with his wife Sue, he’s continued his family’s tradition of raising cattle.
He understands why some would cross the border seeking a better life
“We’ve fed them, given food out and I have these 22 wells with drinking fountains on them and you want to be helpful,” Chilton said, “but all that changed in 2008.”
That’s when the economy crashed, jobs in the U.S. dried up, and a new dangerous trade set up shop through his property.
“What has happened in our area – the Sinaloa cartel has taken over and they control the whole area,” explained Chilton. “In that peak there’s someone right up there, there’s someone watching us, and they can determine if we’re Border Patrol or not Border Patrol.”
He says the Sinaloa cartel presence continues to increase in the area.
“We’ve ceded the cartel 20 miles of the United States with their cartel scouts in the mountains, and I say we need the Border Patrol at the border rather than in Tucson,” said Chilton.
So how can the U.S. take that land back? According to Chilton, they need to use a football strategy.
“A football team on defense lines up in the line of scrimmage and you have a back field,” Chilton said. “And we need the border patrol lined up behind a wall and a backfield. The way it is now, the football team is 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, you never win, you lose every time.”
Essentially, he said the cartel has too good of field position to lose.
How easy is it for the smugglers to cross the border?
Chilton is a two-hour drive from a barb wire fence that anyone can climb over to enter the U.S.
“Any young, 19, 20-year-old throws his pack of drugs over the fence, crawls under or over and walks into the United States. There’s no Border Patrol,” he said.
The drug packers who cross wear carpet shoes, trying to leave no trace of their journey across the border and along any of the dozens of trails that crisscross Chilton’s property.
The nearest border patrol stations are in Nogales or Tucson. Due to the terrain, it takes them about two and a half hours to reach this area of Chilton’s land.
“There’s actually a possibility that we could be being watched right now,” said Chilton. “I assure you, they know we’re here, that is, the cartel knows we’re here. You know, you don’t really think about that, because you think you’re on the side of the United States, you think it’s safe. For the first 20 miles inside the U.S., we have essentially ceded to the Sinaloa cartel control of the area.”
This isn’t a political issue for Chilton – it’s a reality.
“If good people could understand the issues and the implications, they would come to the conclusions that we need to secure the border and have forward operation bases near the border,” he said.
But just because he wants a border wall doesn’t mean he also wants to deport everyone here illegally.
“[We should] develop some sort of legal system for getting people into the United States, a system for legalizing good people who are already here,” said Chilton.
He may believe in having a stronger border, but for Chilton, it’s not about race.
“I’m not a racist. Our whole background is essentially a Hispanic-Anglo combination. We love the culture,” said Chilton.
In fact, many of his cowboys and friends are Mexican, here legally.
But it’s these smugglers crossing his land at all costs who he fears. He wants the Border Patrol and U.S. government to do more to keep him, his family and neighbors safe.
“The agents are good people,” Chilton said. “We like them, we work with the Border Patrol, it’s a group of very decent human beings.”
But still, Chilton said, it’s not enough.
“We need a Border Patrol station here at the international boundary and we need a road going along the boundary,” he said. “And we need to develop a program where good people who want to work, and there’s work here in the U.S. can come into the country legally. And we need some way, in my opinion, to make people here maybe not citizens, but maybe here legally, green cards.”
While some of Chilton’s neighbors have left the area, he hasn’t.
“I’m not going to let the Sinaloa cartel push me off my ranch. I’m staying,” said Chilton. “I love my ranch, we love our animals, our house.”
For this born and bred Arizona rancher – with his hat, boots and worn Wranglers – this is the land he loves, the land he wants to live on until his last breath.
But Chilton said until our government finds a way to work together and build the wall, he will live on it day after day in fear.