New Mexico rancher shares experience along the U.S.-Mexico border

Russell Johnson, whose ranch borders Mexico, said he has dealt with break-ins, litter, theft and damage to his property and livestock from trespassing immigrants.


Xchelzin Pena, Deming Headlight (NM)

Feb. 8, 2019


COLUMBUS, NM — Twenty miles west of Columbus lives a cattle rancher who says he has had his fair share of encounters with crossing immigrants on his property, which sits on the United States-Mexico border.


Russell Johnson, 31, says he is for a border wall — or at least a pedestrian barrier — due to experiences with trespassing immigrants throughout the years.


"It has always been a problem, but when we really started seeing the uptick with this kind of activity was 2005 and 2006," he said.


Johnson said he has dealt with break-ins, litter, theft and property damage.


"We've had people break into our buildings. Fortunately, nobody has broken into our house, but other family members have had their houses broken into down here in the border.


"We have had a lot of cattle theft issues in the past because a portion of our borders is still barbed wire fence so, we've had some people come across and steal some of our cattle."


"We've had vehicles stolen. We've had instances where if they get lost or if the smuggler figures if that person can’t keep up, and they get dropped out of the group, they'll set fire to pasture grass to try to signal for help.


"They've cut through fencing that divide our pastures. They've torn up our floats and our water towers that we have for our cattle and have drained our water systems."


Barriers don't stop immigrants


Johnson has three types of barriers that run along the edges of his property: motor vehicle post barriers with barbed wire, "Normandy-style" barriers and barbed wire fences.


Post and Normandy-style barriers are more of a deterrent; those crossing go around and manipulate his barbed wire fencing to make their way through into the U.S.


The latest encounter Johnson experienced was in August, when a motor vehicle barreled through his barbed wire.


Johnson gave the Deming Headlight a tour of his ranch in his pick-up truck to show the damages imprinted on his barbed wire barrier.


"What they'll do is take those clips off and they'll actually stand on the wire and let the vehicle drive through, and then the guy steps off of it and the wires kind of pop back and it looks like — aside from these clips — it looks like nothing has happened.


"If they are encounter Border Patrol, they try to run and come back and if there's nobody here to hold the fence down again they'll just barrel through it."


Johnson pointed out repairs that show additional pieces of barbed wire coiled up to patch the damage. Below one specific fencing location sat a heavy-duty glove, and an orange peel just a couple feet away. He doesn't know who left them there.


“For protection, I guess,” he said about the glove.


National Guard removed from border


Johnson said he'd ideally like a tall pedestrian barrier. He'd said he'd prefer not to be in charge of maintaining the national boundary.


On Tuesday, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham withdrew the majority of National Guard troops deployed at the state’s southern border...


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