Life on a Border Ranch: Cut Water Lines, Downed Fences, Stolen Property, Dead Bodies

“You wouldn’t expect to find a dead body on your land.”

BISBEE, Arizona—John Ladd, whose family has ranched at the U.S.-Mexico border for more than 125 years, says illegal immigrants tell him that President Joe Biden invited them to come. 

“The biggest difference with the people coming now is, when Border Patrol catches them, they tell them, they say, ‘We’re going to stay here, no matter what you do to us, because your President Biden wants us,’” Ladd tells The Daily Signal in an interview on his ranch near Bisbee, Arizona. 

Ladd, 66, says he and his family are on constant alert for theft by illegal immigrants who cross the border onto his ranch. 

The ranchers also must make sure that cattle haven’t escaped and wandered onto the highway because illegal immigrants cut fences, Ladd says.

Ladd wears a blue jean shirt and white cowboy hat, and his hands tell the story of a life of hard, constant work on the ranch. His ranching days began when he was practically a baby. 

“I was 2 when my mom had put me in front of her on a horse when we rounded up stuff,” Ladd recalls. 

“I don’t remember rounding up, but I remember I had a little pillow so the saddle horn didn’t get me. But she’d hang onto me and we’d go.”

Once he was old enough, he got a horse of his own. 

“I was 4 or 5 and got a Shetland pony and started riding by myself then,” Ladd recalls. “I was a Roy Rogers fan, so I named him Trigger. I guess I was about 10 and my dad taught me to drive the Jeep when I was 8, so I could put feed out when I was 10.” 

Ladd ranches the same land his parents did, about 16,000 acres that includes 10-and-a-half miles along the border. But times have changed since his parents worked the ranch. His great-grandparents came to the area in 1894. 

Unlawful crossings from Mexico into the United States continue to skyrocket, with 178,622 arrests in April and 180,034 in May, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

The agency released the June numbers Friday, showing 188,829 arrests—the highest yet under Biden. 

In one of two debates with then-President Donald Trump, Biden said that “within 100 days, I’m going to send the United States Congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people.” 

Ladd says he has seen a huge influx of illegal immigrants since Biden took office Jan. 20. 

“During Trump’s administration, we didn’t have that,” Ladd says. “It was tolerable. But now all of a sudden it’s back to the way it used to be overnight.”

When Biden ended construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border on Inauguration Day, he says, the flow really picked up.

“Biden signed the executive order,” Ladd says, adding:

Overnight, it started back up again. And now they’re catching at least 50 a day on the ranch. …

That’s what bothers me more than any of this. It’s a deliberate invitation for these people to come into the U.S. And Biden is behind it, and his administration.

When illegal immigrants cross onto his ranch, he says, they often cut water lines and fences, which becomes both a safety issue and financial liability for him. 

“The worst thing on cut fences is at the highway,” Ladd says. “And you get a cow on the highway, and black cows and black night aren’t conducive to people seeing them.”

During the mid-2000s, he recalls, he got a midnight call from someone reporting, “You got cows on the highway.”

“That all stopped with Trump,” Ladd says. “I haven’t been to the highway [to rescue cattle], knock on wood, since Biden has been elected. But it’s coming, because they’re cutting fences on the ranch now.”

Ladd and wife JoBeth’s three sons are all college graduates. The oldest is a wildlife biologist, the middle one has a degree in accounting but works as a steel salesman, and the youngest is a beer brewer in Hawaii. They have two grandsons. 

Although their work isn’t on the ranch right now, he expects one or more to return when the time comes. 

It costs 30% more to ranch if you live within 50 miles of the border, Ladd says. 

“If you live right on the border, it probably costs you 40% or 50% more to ranch, just because of the maintenance and checking stuff.” 

But it’s not just the financial costs of the current border crisis that affect Ladd. He also has safety concerns for his family and home. 

“When you go out in the morning, you check what’s in your truck,” Ladd says. “Is somebody laying in my truck? Or under the truck? Or in my wife’s car? Are they out here? Every time you open the door, you kind of look, and [I’ve] been doing it for 30 years.”

The Ladds also have had to build their lives around protecting the ranch due to what they have experienced. 

“We’ve had several confrontations, but nothing life-threatening. Most of it, they want to use your phone,” Ladd says. 

Someone is always at the ranch to keep watch, he says.

“They come to your house and try and bull their way through the door,” he says of illegal immigrants, adding: 

We’ve had a lot of things stolen. We’ve had a lot of vehicles stolen. This barn has been broken [into]. We don’t even lock it anymore. We lock the houses. But somebody is always here. Nobody can leave the ranch without somebody being here. During Trump’s administration, we could be gone for a little while. And now it’s back to the same deal. Somebody’s always got to be here.

Tragically, Ladd says, he has come upon dead illegal immigrants. 

“We’ve had 14 dead bodies on the ranch that I know of,” Ladd says. “That was a game-changer for me, when I found the first dead illegal. And now it’s still disheartening to find somebody, but that’s the way it is.”

“And it’s either heatstroke, they freeze to death, or they’re sick to begin with,” he says. “They can’t make it from the border to the highway, and they die. But we’ve always helped them. And then we call Border Patrol.”

Despite the danger and challenges of ranching at the border, Ladd says, he isn’t keen on going anywhere else. 

“I don’t want to leave,” he says. “This is my legacy. I don’t know if I’d want to ranch anywhere else, period.”

“I’ve been to a lot of different ranches, and they don’t have any illegal [immigrant] problems, and I’m jealous for a couple of days,” Ladd says. “And then [it’s] 6 below zero and all their water is frozen up, and I go, ‘Wow, I don’t put up with that. I get a little ice.’ 

“But this is home. I’m not leaving.”

Reproduced with permission. Original here. Rachel del Guidice is a congressional reporter for The Daily Signal. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Forge Leadership Network, and The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program.