Trump’s renewed vow Wednesday to seize control of the border hit close to home for Peggy Davis, whose cattle ranch near Tombstone, Arizona, is about 25 miles north of the border.
She says stretches desperately need more barriers but a wall alone won’t stop illegal crossings or drug smuggling.
“We desperately need (Border Patrol) agents closer to the border,” Davis said.
Trump vowed to make Mexico pay for the wall along the 1,954-mile border, suggesting a tax on Mexican imports as a funding mechanism.
Mexico opposes the wall and has repeatedly said it won’t pay.
Critics in the U.S. say the president lacks a viable financial plan for building the wall.
One-third of the border already has some form of barrier, ranging from tall steel barricades to wire-mesh and livestock fencing.
Jerry Blackburn, a 67-year-old retired county building official from rural Tazewell, Virginia, voted for Trump and supports his calls for cracking down on sanctuary cities and refugees coming to the U.S. Blackburn, a Republican, said illegal immigration “has diluted our workforce and is a heavy burden to our people.”
He says the multibillion-dollar price tag of the wall is “not a big number when you look at the whole scope of things,” and he’s not bothered that vast stretches of the border already have fencing.
“It’s not like we’re going to start from scratch,” he said. “It’s not like we’re building from the Gulf to the ocean. We’re just finishing something that’s already been started.”
Immigration has long been a unifying issue for conservatives, especially in border states that bear the brunt of immigrant and drug smuggling. The issue has rallied people to vote Republican around the country over the years, including immigrants such as Mercedes B. Izquierdo of Miami.
The retired saleswoman left Cuba 50 years ago and strongly backs Trump’s border efforts.
“I think that building a wall is an excellent, perfect idea. There’s so much we have to do,” she said. “There are so many people coming from South America that are coming to destroy our country. Terrorists and criminals are looking to harm us.”
Zachery Henry, a 23-year-old public relations and social media specialist in Houston, doesn’t expect an expensive or towering concrete barrier but he says the U.S. does need to do something about drugs smuggled from Mexico.
“I think that would be my primary concern. I’m not too concerned about illegal immigrants,” Henry said.
In Arizona, problems with immigration have frequently boiled up as a political issue. The 2010 killing of border rancher Robert Krentz— still unsolved but blamed on drug smugglers — helped galvanize support for SB1070. The state’s landmark immigration crackdown required law enforcement to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained if there was reasonable suspicion they were in the country illegally.
Six years later, Trump rallied that base again.
Davis says she doesn’t see border crossers or smugglers often on her family’s cattle ranch, but the issue persists.
Late last year, a smuggler driving a truck filled with drugs fled onto her ranch, leading Border Patrol agents on a chase through her pasture. Davis says the driver of the truck eventually stopped and fled.
“We have evidence that they’re back in our area again,” she said.
John Barnes, a 60-year-old retiree in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said he likes what he sees so far from Trump regarding the border wall and infrastructure proposals.
“I think we got to do something down there at the border,” Barnes said. “It’s a shovel-ready project.”
Barnes said he wasn’t too concerned about the cost of the wall because he believes the federal government has already spent billions of dollars on schooling and health care for immigrants in the country illegally.
“I wish Obama would have started this,” he said.
AP writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami, Frank Bajak in Houston, Russell Contreras in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Michael Kunzelman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.