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Border Patrol death raises doubts on security in rural Arizona

October 02, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • U.S. Border Patrol agents inspect the scene of the fatal shooting of a fellow agent, Nicholas Ivie.
U.S. Border Patrol agents inspect the scene of the fatal shooting of a fellow… (Benjie Sanders/Arizona…)

Houston — The fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie on Tuesday prompted concerns about the security of the border area  in rural Cochise County, Ariz., where he died. 

In neighboring Santa Cruz County, Sheriff Tony Estrada said crime had fallen sharply along the border in recent years, due to a steep drop in illegal immigrant traffic as well as increased Border Patrol staffing. But violent clashes are not uncommon in isolated areas used by drug traffickers and bandits who prey on illegal immigrants.

“What we are seeing on occasion is assaults, robberies and ripoffs in canyons in remote areas,” Estrada said. “It’s usually among themselves.”

But border security remains a concern in Cochise County, population 137,000, where 65 deputies patrol 6,215 square miles, including 83 miles of border.

Many people were outraged in March 2010 when well-known Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz, 58, was shot and killed by someone that sheriff’s investigators said was probably an illegal immigrant or a smuggler.

The late Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever became an outspoken advocate for increased border security, according to Beth Kempshall, who worked with him as executive director of the state’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, a counter-narcotics group. Dever, a Republican, championed the state's controversial anti-illegal immigration law, known as SB 1070, which passed in the wake of Krentz’s death.

Dever “voiced that we needed to be aware, law enforcement, of these crimes coming across the border illegally and the dangers it was placing on the community,” Kempshall told The Times. ”It’s a very big challenge for the folks who live in that county.”

Dever died last month in an auto accident in northern Arizona.

Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat who represents the Cochise County  area, called for stepped-up security.

“The border is not yet secure,” he told The Times. “We have made improvements, we have seen additional agents, assets and technology go to the border to try to contend with the cartels who still use this area for their smuggling.”

Barber said it was difficult to measure whether violence had increased along the border in recent years, but that he hears about it from constituents.

“My constituents are under threat all the time because of cartel activity,” he said, and for the local Border Patrol, “two killed in the last two years is totally unacceptable.”

Ivie, 30, grew up in Provo, Utah, attended Timpview High School and was Mormon. He and his wife, Christy, had two young daughters. His older brother also works for the Border Patrol.

"We are extremely proud of Nick and for his service both in his community and our country," Ivie's sister-in-law, Corinne Ivie, said in a family statement to The Times from Spanish Fork, Utah. "He loved what he did and gave it his all, including his life. Right now our thoughts and prayers are with his wonderful wife and his two beautiful girls. We would also like to thank everyone for the tremendous outpouring of support and love."

The last Border Patrol agent fatally shot on duty was Brian Terry, 40, killed  near the Arizona border town of Rio Rico in December 2010. The Border Patrol station in Naco, Ariz. — where Ivie was stationed — was recently named after Terry.

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Join Molly on Google+ and Twitter @mollyhf. Email: molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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