New Mexico

ONLY ON ABC-7: Border rancher's New Mexico property damaged by smuggler

Ranchers smuggling concerns

COLUMBUS, New Mexico - For more than a century, the Johnson family has owned thousands of acres west of Columbus in New Mexico.

"There's no easy way to pick up and move a ranch," Russell Johnson told ABC-7. "We have too much heritage and legacy here to just pick up and move it."

With a belt buckle that read 'Est. 1917,' Johnson gripped the barbed wire that separates part of his ranch from Mexico.

"You always live with a constant heightened awareness for your surroundings and what's going on around you," Johnson said. "You don't know what's lurking in the darkness or even in the daylight."

On June 28th, the rancher told ABC-7 he was awakened by U.S. Border Patrol agents who said they found smuggling activity on his property. Close to midnight, he discovered a vehicle had driven over the barbed wire separating his property, cut the lock to his gate, and rammed into it in full force.

"They got spooked and made their run back to Mexico," Johnson said, gesturing to the abandoned village of Las Chepas, just south of the barrier on his property.

Johnson scrambled to fix the fence before his hundreds of cattle could potentially escape to the neighboring country.

"If I have a cow go into Mexico, that's potentially $1,000 or $1,100 dollars to Mexico," he said. "The likelihood of us getting it back is next to none."

For both his safety and the preservation of his ranch, Johnson is calling on the federal government to build a stronger and more secure border barrier separating his property from Mexico.

"The government should be taking care of and securing it so we feel just as safe here as we would further north in Las Cruces or Santa Fe," Johnson said.

He told ABC-7 he has invited the governor of New Mexico, both of the state's U.S. senators and other elected officials. However, he said the only federal representative to tour his ranch was U.S. Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small (D - Las Cruces).

"We have to recognize that including ranchers, like Mr. Johnson, in the discussion about border security is crucial to finding meaningful solutions," Torres Small said in a statement. "Our system is overwhelmed, especially in the most rural areas where resources are stretched thin. While we may not always agree on the solutions, keeping our border secure means listening to those affected."

Johnson said the border has become far too politicized, with both political parties to blame. Even with the added danger, his family isn't leaving.

"We shouldn't have to move," Johnson said. "We shouldn't have the fears that we have about this border."

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