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'I just don’t want them dying:' The reality of being a rancher on the border

Posted at 3:40 PM, Apr 08, 2024

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Ariz. (KGUN) — For more than two decades, Jim Chilton and his wife Sue have owned a ranch that sits just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, but he can’t name a time where he’s seen more people crossing onto his property.

'I just don’t want them dying': The reality of being a rancher on the border
'I just don’t want them dying': The reality of being a rancher on the border

Jim says barriers on roughly 2.5 miles of the shared border is easy to crawl under or climb over for people looking to enter the country, since the wall was never finished.

“Three people that I know of died on our ranch in 2023 and it’s horrible," he said. "One of our cowboys was riding along and found a body. We’re looking for cows not bodies.”

KGUN 9 spent the day with Jim where we saw what he's been talking about for years— migrants walking up to the boundary and climbing over, and crawling under the smaller boundary.

“It’s not my job to apprehend, it’s the border patrol's job.” Jim said.

'I just don’t want them dying': The reality of being a rancher on the border
'I just don’t want them dying': The reality of being a rancher on the border

The pair walked past us and headed west toward Sasabe, the closest Border Patrol station to the Chiltons' ranch.

“They’ve got to walk up and down these roads, it’s not easy,” Jim said.

We drove the road the pair was walking. It was a dirt road with steep hills and blankets and clothing lining the path.

“More Red Cross blankets,” Jim said as he drove the familiar road.

He says he’s seen hundreds of people making 25-mile walk to Sasabe. Jim says those in street clothes are looking for help and to turn themselves over to ask for asylum, while the drug packers wear camouflage and don't want to be seen.

He chooses to treat the trespassers with kindness, whether it's with the 29 drinking fountains he’s set up throughout his property, giving those he encounters snacks or telling them where to go.

'I just don’t want them dying': The reality of being a rancher on the border
'I just don’t want them dying': The reality of being a rancher on the border

KGUN asked the life-long rancher why he chooses to help these people. His response was simple.

“I’ve had about 35 people die on my ranch and it’s really horrible," Jim said. "Even if drug packers come across my ranch, I just don’t want them dying."

Throughout Jim's 50,000-acre ranch, there are crosses in places where people have died.

Jim has shared his experiences and interactions on his ranch with politicians, friends, family and anyone who is willing to listen because he wants something to change. He says he'd like the wall to be completed and more eyes on the border.

“The thing is the border patrol should be at the wall 24/7, (not processing people),” Jim said.