As a rancher who lives east of Nogales along the border in the Sonoran Desert, Bernstein has experienced the complexity of border issues every day for years. He began his talk by suggesting that probably everything we had heard about the border was a lie and admonishing us not to trust politicians, who don’t know anything about the border. He talked about how the border looks different in four different states, and from the Mexican side. He recounted a joke made by someone on the Mexican side when the border became militarized: “We are so lucky that American soldiers will prevent Americans from invading Mexico.”
Most moving about his talk were his descriptions of migrant travelers. He mentioned encountering a backpacker who thought that Chicago and LA were just a day’s walk over the hills because a coyote smuggler had lied to him. Bernstein remembered another youth with duck-tape around his shoes who wanted to be arrested because he knew that the border patrol would take care of him. Another traveler was from Nogales, Mexico, and had gone to Tucson with a friend looking for work. However, the friend left him and he had no way of getting home. Bernstein met this particular traveler when he found him sleeping in his bed!
Bernstein was candid about the challenges that border issues cause ranchers. He mentioned that his own ranch had been broken into multiple times. He was essentially indifferent to the border patrol presence. He talked about working with them and occasionally calling them to make a report. But he was skeptical about their efficiency despite increasing numbers. One issue he cited is the high border patrol turnover and lack of familiarity with the area: “You have black guys from Chicago [on the border patrol] who don’t know where they are. You might as well drop them into hell!” He ended in a manner similar to the way he began his talk, stressing the idea that it is “almost impossible to understand the border until you live there.”