In search of hope along the U.S.-Mexico border

A family mourns the loss of a husband, father, son

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

Richard Atkinson has lived in Naco, the border town near where Ivie was killed, for 50 years.

"It’s a dangerous area," he said. "There’s cartels fighting over this territory."

And he takes precautions to protect himself.

"I’m armed. We have weapons in our house. Pistols and rifles and shotguns and we lock the guns real well," he said.

Chicago transplant Jimmy Pionke owns a Jimmy's Hot Dog Company on Highway 92 in Bisbee, a popular eatery among border agents including Ivie. He lives on 12 acres less than a mile from the border. He said he's only seen an illegal immigrant once in the 11 years he has been there.

"Safest place I ever lived," he says while he and his wife, Pammy, serve up Chicago dogs and twice-baked spuds.

Pionke blames the media for portraying border towns as war zones. "It's not dangerous," he said. "Those of us who live here know if you don't go in the wrong place at the wrong time, you're just fine."

At the Douglas port of entry, thousands of people move across the border daily without incident. Mexican citizen Rodolfo Gonzalez walks his two American citizen children Kevin, 9, and Emily, 5, to school in Douglas every day. He describes the mood as "tranquilo."

A half-mile away, the church fiesta brings families together on a balmy evening. Residents say they don't live under a cloud of fear. They lead their lives like Americans do all over the country. On this night they're dining on homemade tacos and empanadas while watching young girls dance in frilly, colorful dresses.

The violence and drug running occurs in the mountains and hills around them, not in town.

Peace and violence

A woman waiting in line to buy $2 burritos at a weathered wooden booth says she wouldn't raise her children anywhere else. Her 27-year daughter has a college degree and is earning a master's online. Her son is headed to college.

Regardless of their sense of safety, border town residents agree it's not illegal immigrants looking for a better life that causes concern. Most of them don't linger. They head for points north.

The drug trade, they say, fuels the bloodshed.

"The reason it comes is because U.S. citizens are using it in huge quantities and are willing to pay the price," said Orozco, the college professor. "Until it changes, it's a cancer on society in Mexico. It's destroying whole (South and Latin American) countries."

Several mountain ranges with steep slopes descending into deep canyons run along the border in southeastern Arizona. They're favorite places for hikers and smugglers alike.

Border Patrol agents spread out through popular areas such as Ramsey Canyon, the hummingbird capital of the United States, warning hikers that their cars might be gone when they get back. Abandoned backpacks, water bottles, clothes and diapers litter the once pristine forests. Unattended campfires have burned hundreds of those of acres.

The Border Patrol presence has increased dramatically the past few years. White and green trucks are posted along highways, dusty back roads and next to the wall.

Ivie is among more than 1,000 Border Patrol agents who have arrived to the Tucson district since 2008, which includes Cochise County, an area of 80 miles and part of the territory he patrolled. It's the result of Homeland Security, a need to secure the border with a wall and agents. Ivie came in January 2008.

Difficult questions

Whether the surge is working is a matter of perspective. And less certain is what to call it: Is it a drug war? An immigration war? A defense of American life and property?

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