- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The apparent slaying of a prominent Arizona rancher on his property near the Mexican border has inflamed tensions over illegal immigration and intensified calls for the federal government to ramp up protection along the increasingly perilous southern border.

Robert Krentz, 58, was found fatally shot Saturday. A helicopter crew with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office discovered his body inside his Polaris all-terrain vehicle along with his dog, which also had been shot and critically wounded.

Authorities say on the day of his death, Mr. Krentz sent his brother a message via radio phone, but his brother could only understand the words “illegal alien” and “hurt.” Mr. Krentz is thought to have fled from the site of the shooting, eventually coming to a halt about 1,000 feet away.

Search teams from the sheriff’s office, the Border Patrol and state Department of Corrections followed foot tracks from the site for about 20 miles in the direction of the border but failed to capture any suspects. Mexican authorities have been notified and are cooperating with the search, said Cochise County spokeswoman Carol Capas.

“It’s a big deal. It’s something that could be a turning point here,” said Ms. Capas following a Monday press conference by Sheriff Larry Dever in Bisbee, Ariz. “People in the area are on heightened alert. They’re grief-stricken, saddened, and they’re extremely angry.”

Speculation was rampant that the killer was connected with Mexico’s violent drug cartels, which have laid siege to communities south of the border. The drug lords may have used the remote 35,000-acre Krentz Ranch to ferry drugs into the United States.

The day before the shooting, Mr. Krentz’s brother found eight illegal aliens on the ranch. They were taken into custody by Border Patrol, along with several hundred pounds of marijuana, said Ms. Capas.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, whose district includes the Krentz Ranch, called on the Obama administration to heighten enforcement along the border.

“If, as suspected, this tragedy was connected to smugglers or drug cartels, the federal government must respond appropriately,” Mrs. Giffords said. “All options should be on the table, including sending more Border Patrol agents to the area and deploying the National Guard.”

Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who’s challenging Arizona Sen. John McCain for the Republican nomination, issued a statement calling for a greater federal role in protecting the border. Mr. Hayworth, a border-security hawk, has made illegal immigration a major issue in the primary campaign.

“We need the federal government to act now and step up its efforts to secure our borders,” Mr. Hayworth said. “Border security is national security, and it is time that we enforce the law. For thousands of Arizonans, border security is also quite literally a matter of personal security.”

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo, who was in Arizona Saturday for a “tea party” rally, also called for National Guard troops. He noted that former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano had deployed National Guard troops during her tenure to aid with border security.

“Three days ago, Napolitano told an audience at Arizona State University that the border is more secure than ever,” said Mr. Tancredo, Colorado Republican. “I challenge her — no, I dare her — to come to this community and try to sell that lie. The residents here know better.”

Chris Simcox, a founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and one-time McCain challenger, said the Krentz Ranch recently had been caught up in a turf war among drug cartels. As the Border Patrol closed off more popular routes, drug smugglers and human smugglers were increasingly using the vast Krentz property as their path of choice.

“It’s one of those routes the drug cartels are fighting over,” said Mr. Simcox, who dropped out of the Senate race in January and threw his support behind Mr. Hayworth. “But nobody ever pays attention to that area because it’s one of the most rugged. It’s even been a no-man’s land for the Border Patrol.”

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