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Border & Immigration

Arizona Ranchers, Lawmen React To Court's SB 1070 Decision

A storm rolls in over the Huachuca Mountains in Cochise County, Ariz. The county shares 83.5 miles of the border with Mexico.
A storm rolls in over the Huachuca Mountains in Cochise County, Ariz. The county shares 83.5 miles of the border with Mexico.
Arizona Ranchers, Lawmen, React
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning key parts of SB 1070 was no surprise to some Arizona border residents. But the question remains: How will the U.S. enforce the law at the border?

COCHISE COUNTY, Ariz. -- The Supreme Court’s decision overturning key parts of SB 1070 was no surprise to some Arizona border residents. But they have a question, and it's a sticking point: What is the U.S. going to do about border enforcement in their backyards?

Edith Lowell's home is set back on a cattle ranch out in the hills west of Nogales, down a winding single-lane road in a place called Peck Canyon. Her family’s been here since the 1870s. Mexico, the border, is 12 miles away. Illegal immigration through her ranch was once rampant. That has calmed now.

"So what we have left now are the drug smugglers and of course, they’re the bad guys," Lowell said.

There are other bad guys these days. Ripoff crews hunt drug mules here, looking to steal their cargo or their money. Bandits rob illegal immigrants in the wooded canyons and sweeping plains dotted with giant boulders.

In December 2010, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed on her ranch.

So, yes, illegal immigration is down, and that’s good, but there are other problems.

"Well, we still have the drug smugglers. In fact, my husband was told a couple of weeks ago, 'well, they’re leaving drugs in your junkpile again.' They’ve moved back in here," Lowell said.

She expected the Supreme Court to reject SB 1070. In fact, the bill was short-lived. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton blocked its key provisions one day before the state immigration law was set to take effect in 2010. So Lowell figured, if the lower court didn't like it, why would the Supreme Court? But given the context of her life out here, Lowell still has major security concerns that aren’t being addressed.

"What that makes me think is if the Feds have the authority, let them do a better job," she said.

We'd like to hear your thoughts. Did the Supreme Court make the right decision regarding SB 1070?

Susan Clark Morales lives ten miles south of Lowell's ranch. This is cattle country, and Morales' ranch abuts the border line out where giant walls don’t exist and it’s not always easy to tell which country’ you’re standing in.

"We’ve had our house broken into. My home was broken into 7 times in about a 3 year period. And that was the same house where I was raised," Morales said.

She compares it to living in a crime-ridden big city. Bars on the windows, security doors, an alarm that goes straight to the Border Patrol station.

She supported Arizona’s SB 1070 law, but not for the reasons most supporters backed it.

"Well, the irony of it is, Arizona is just trying to enforce the laws that the federal government has already had in place. Okay? So when you ask, should Arizona have done that, on its own or what is it trying to prove, I don’t see how that’s a big question," she said.

"The question is, why isn’t the federal government enforcing its own laws?”

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever agrees with that. He’s one of the few Arizona law enforcement officials who backed SB 1070. In fact, his deputies enforced federal immigration law years before the current political fight began. He says he had no choice. For a ten year period, Cochise County felt overrun with illegal immigrants.

"It’s not hard in our environment. We don’t have a large illegal alien population in Cochise County. We’re a gateway, a fountainhead, a floodgate, sometimes. But there’s nothing to hold them here, they’re just trying to get through," Dever said.

So he was pleased with the court’s decision to keep allowing police to ask the immigration status of people they stop.

"Well, we’ve been doing that down on the border for 36 years," the sheriff said.

There are other law enforcement officials down here in Southern Arizona who are more bothered by that provision. Tony Estrada is sheriff of Santa Cruz County, also along the border.

More stories, documents & multimedia on the controversial Arizona anti-immigration law.

"I was kind of hoping they would find that unconstitutional. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen so we’re going to have to work with it," Estrada said.

He has moral and professional objections to the policy, but that does not mean he won't enforce it now that Arizona has the court's permission to use it.

"No, I would definitely not advise my deputies not to enforce the law. I will advise them to use a lot of common sense," he said.

Both lawmen say the Border Patrol presence in their counties is so prevalent, they expect they won't need to worry about the sole provision of SB 1070 that survived the court.

The interior of the country, they say -- places like Phoenix, Colorado, Alabama -- will be another matter.