Border Residents Use Radios to Fight Illegal Immigration

Nearly every day, Zachek spots illegal immigrants crossing his fields on their way north. But calling a law enforcement agency to report them isn’t an option, he said. Cell phones don’t work in this remote stretch of desert. The nearest land line can be almost an hour away when Zachek is working on his 5,000-acre spread, and even then it might be a long-distance call to reach anyone.

“Sometimes you can get ahold of somebody, and sometimes you can’t,” Zachek said.

Even when he does get someone, the closest officer is rarely near his property, Zachek said.

Recognizing ranchers’ frustration, state and federal officials are now giving two-way, police-style radios to border residents. The direct connection to police dispatchers in three of New Mexico’s seven border counties will allow residents to get emergency help or to more easily report illegal activity.

But Bill Johnson, whose family owns more than 100,000 acres land along the border, said the radio program is an unwanted waste of money, and no one should expect help from his family. It’s too dangerous, he says, because human smugglers and drug traffickers would want to know who is talking to law enforcement about their activities.

“They countersurveil us well enough that they know when we go to breakfast,” said Johnson’s son, James. “All these smugglers have is time and money.”

James Johnson, who works alongside his father on the family onion farm, said his family used to use CB radios to call authorities when they saw something suspicious on their land. But then federal authorities told them that criminals in Mexico were watching them.

“I feel kind of guilty that we’re not able to do anything about it, but our priority is our family,” James Johnson said.

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