Yet migrants continue crossing in some rugged reaches that are well outside of cellphone range. Bell says waiving environmental reviews within 100 miles of the border may be unnecessary but that a 25-mile zone would help immensely.
"There are areas where the agents can't get to," he said. "By the time they get out of the station and get to these remote areas, then hike another two or three hours just to get close to the border, they have to come back because their day is pretty much eaten up. It's really difficult when there's no access out there."
Ladd, a fourth-generation rancher whose spread near Douglas is in a flatter, more easily traveled area of mesquite-draped hills, thinks the Border Patrol has gone far enough. The agency installed four 80-foot camera towers on his land about six years ago. In 2007, it completed a fence along the 10.5 miles of his ranch that borders Mexico.
Rainfall that runs downhill from Mexico is stopped by debris caught in the mesh fence and an adjoining raised road, Ladd says. The water is diverted to other areas, causing floods and soil erosion on his property.
Ladd, 57, thinks the bill would allow the Border Patrol to "run roughshod" over ranches and farms.
"Be careful what you wish for, they're going to tear it up," Ladd tells other ranchers. "Once they get in, it pretty well turns into a parking lot. It's really hard to get them out."
Ladd says the 37 miles of roads on his ranch are enough for the Border Patrol's needs. "Why do you need new ones?" he asks.
The Interior Department raised concerns in a survey of Arizona's Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge last year that found nearly 8,000 miles of off-road vehicle trails, blaming much of it on smuggling and Border Patrol activity. It urged the Border Patrol to rely tools like radars and cameras, which are less threatening to wildlife.
Critics of the Border Patrol's growth have long called new fences, roads and other infrastructure a threat to Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican grey wolves, jaguars and other border wildlife.
A Government Accountability Office report in 2010 offered fodder for both sides of the debate. It found Border Patrol supervisors generally felt land laws didn't hinder them on the job but that the agency sometimes encountered roadblocks. An unnamed agency took four months to review a Border Patrol request to move a camera tower in Arizona, by which time traffic had moved to another area.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who has led opposition to the bill that has largely split along party lines, calls the effort a disguised step toward repealing environmental laws.
"The border has become a very convenient excuse to after laws that have been on the books for four or five decades," he said. "You plant your flag on the 100 miles (of border) and then build from there."
Bishop dismisses that criticism as a scare tactic and a "lousy argument."
"Sovereign countries control their borders. Anything that stops us from that is a violation of why we are a nation," he said.
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