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The reality of being a rancher on the Arizona border

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Ariz. (KGUN) — Jim Chilton and his wife, Sue, have owned a ranch just north of the U.S.-Mexico border for more than 20 years, but he can't remember a time when they've had so many people cross into their land.

Jordan Cullop (KGUN)

“I just don't want them to die”: The reality for border ranchers

Jim said about 2.5 miles of the border wall is not yet complete, making it easy for people trying to enter the country to slip under or over it.

“We've heard that three people died on our ranch in 2023. It's horrible,” he said. “One of our cowboys was out riding and found the bodies. We're looking for cattle, not bodies.”

KGUN 9 spent the day with Jim and witnessed what he's been talking about for years: migrants walking up to the border, climbing over it and crawling under the tiny border.

“It's not my job to make arrests. That's the Border Patrol's job,” Jim said.

Jordan Cullop (KGUN)

“I just don't want them to die”: The reality for border ranchers

They passed us and walked west toward Sasabe, the Border Patrol post closest to Chilton Ranch.

“They have to walk these paths, and it's not easy,” Jim said.

We drove up the road they had been walking along, a steep, dirt road lined with blankets and clothing on either side.

“We've got more Red Cross blankets,” Jim said as we drove down the familiar road.

Jim said he saw hundreds of people walking the 25 miles to Sasabe, some in plain clothes trying to turn themselves in to seek help and asylum, while drug traffickers wore camouflage to stay hidden, he said.

He chooses to treat trespassers kindly, by installing 29 drinking fountains throughout the property, offering snacks to anyone he encounters and directing them where to go.

Jordan Cullop (KGUN)

“I just don't want them to die”: The reality for border ranchers

KGUN asked the lifelong rancher why he decided to help these people, and his answer was simple.

“About 35 people have died on my ranch, it's really bad,” Jim said. “If a drug dealer comes on to my ranch, I don't want them to die.”

Throughout Jim's 50,000-acre ranch, there are crosses placed at the spots where people have died.

Jim has shared his experiences and interactions at the ranch with politicians, friends, family and anyone who will listen because he wants to make a difference – he wants the wall to be built and for more attention to be paid to the border.

“The Border Patrol should be at the wall 24/7, and that's the issue (not processing people),” Jim said.

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