By Kayla Sargent, Western Ag Reporter, 2019 AAEA First Place Issues Winner

Read the three part series: 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Several missed connections, three unread emails and a brief and somewhat gruff phone call to set a time eventually led to a three-hour conversation depicting experiences that seemed unreal to a Montana rancher.  Connecting with legendary Arizona cowboy and author Ed Ashurst was no easy task, but once the time allowed, an amazing story unfolded through his deep, gritty voice that only true-life experiences could tell. 

“I could tell you stories for hours and never tell you the same story,” Ashurst said. 

Coming off history’s longest government shutdown and seeing Congress still at an impasse, immigration and the Mexico border were at the forefront of nearly every news report and even everyday conversations.  But in a great party-line split, the humans actually living and working on the Mexico border became an afterthought in the conversation.  And who better to share the reality of that than the folks ranching on the very land that serves as a highway for illegal traffic and drug smuggling?  Their stories and experiences brought a harsh new perspective to the border issue, especially for our readers whom cherish the peaceful and tranquil lifestyle that ranching provides. 

That lifestyle was stripped from Ashurst, his family and his ranching neighbors.  Growing up on a ranch and hoping to serve the industry through communication and connection, my heart ached for the border ranchers after hearing the horrific stories.  Ashurst’s narration was engrained in my mind and everyone I visited with in the days to follow got to hear my recollection of it.  

“The biggest thing is the stress,” Ashurst said.  “You just live in a war zone and unless you’ve ever experienced that, you really don’t know what it’s like.”

And he was exactly right.  Our readers and ranching community in the North rarely thought twice about the reality of living on the Mexico border.  Like Ashurst said, even 100 miles north of the border, when he shared these real concerns, people looked at him as if he had “three eyeballs.”

I had to share their story – and the story had already told itself.  Sitting down to place it into words, each piece of our conversation surfaced to the “must include” section of the outline.  Clearly this would become a series of the scary encounters and real experiences, the causes of the issue at hand, and potential fixes.   

As the story unfolded, it became clear to me and readers alike that the border crisis truly is a national security issue.  And suddenly, folks clear across the country rallied support, sharing the stories with their Congressional representatives.  Ashurst connected me with other border ranchers and state industry organizations that are constantly screaming for help, but it seemingly falls on deaf ears. 

In a small industry, “neighbors” can be 1,000’s of miles apart and when we see others in need of help, ranchers rally.  Such was the case after the three-part series was published.  Unfortunately, the border issue is very complex and multi-faceted.  There is no single and simple fix.  But through my conversations with ranchers dealing with it day to day, I was able to share how this has affected real Americans in a very real way.  The series brought light to the true crisis through a perspective that is little shared in mainstream media.