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Residents in Arizona town feel 'invaded by Border Patrol'

Many locals in and around Bisbee say agents and new security infrastructure have created a military-like occupation in their once-sleepy hamlets.

January 12, 2013|By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

"They've got ATVs, horses. They've got helicopters now. It grinds me every day," Oldfield said of the money spent. He and others complained about the agents' salaries — the base pay of $38,000 to $49,000 is up to 40% higher than the median income in Bisbee. There are also plenty of opportunities for overtime.

Many choose to live in Sierra Vista, nearly 25 miles from Bisbee.

Unlike the rural areas near the border, the town offers recreational activities, employment opportunities for spouses, retail outlets such as Target, and the schools are better.

"It happens to be that the Sierra Vista community gives them everything they need for their family," Passement said.

Widner says agents are vital to the local economy, pointing out that they spend money at local eateries and other businesses even if they don't live nearby.

Officials say they've made an effort to forge partnerships with residents, calling them essential to border security.

"They are some of our best sources of information," Widner said.

Now, officials say, some of America's safest communities are along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Dawn Birdsong, who has five acres a few miles north of the border, isn't convinced. She points to a collection of more than two dozen tattered hats that decorate her chain-link fence. She said they probably belonged to border crossers and their smugglers.

The agents who patrol the area are "all we have," said Birdsong, who favors deployment of the U.S. military.

"Get them down here and secure our border," she said. "This is escalating. I think there is going to be a war."

But longtime resident Salomon questions the big security footprint.

"Don't get me wrong. I know there are bad things going on over there, but that's over there," she said, pointing south toward Mexico. "There's no war going on here."

cindy.carcamo@latimes.com

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