A sympathetic landowner

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

"I'm not sure why people are mad at 'em," says Jerry Bohmfalk. "I think they're mad at 'em because they're poor."

Jerry Bohmfalk looks like the Marlboro Man but talks like the well-traveled corporate consultant that he became after earning his Ph.D. in integrated pest management at Texas A&M. Ten years ago, like many Douglas natives who left to seek their fortunes in the wider world, he came home. Now Bohmfalk consults via Internet, does a little ranching, and helps keep his uncle's saddle shop going in downtown Douglas, near the historic Gadsden Hotel.

He may also decide to go ahead with a lawsuit he's been threatening against the U.S. Border Patrol.

When the border heated up, Bohmfalk says, the Border Patrol started hotdogging over his land, cutting new roads, tearing up the desert, and threatening a waterline that keeps his livestock and pets alive. By a quirk of the landscape, migrant traffic isn't too heavy on Bohmfalk's place, which lies in the wide part of a V between two trails.

Bohmfalk says the people he calls "economic refugees' pass through quietly, on foot, and don't bother him. He believes that the Barnetts have made their problems worse by mistreating migrants. Coyotes spread the word about the Barnetts, Bohmfalk says, and the brothers become targets for vandals. He believes that Roger Barnett has gotten carried away by all the press attention he's received: "a propane salesman who's being treated like the Grand Dalai Lama of the KKK."

Bohmfalk and the Barnett brothers represent the two extremes of views on the border. Ironically, there is an old money-new money relationship between the two families. Bohmfalk's grandfather left Texas in the 1800s to homestead on the nearby San Pedro River. He became a prominent rancher, as well as a preacher.

The Barnetts seem to have led a more hardscrabble existence. Don Barnett told me that his grandfather worked as a hired hand on the old Bohmfalk place in Palominas.

Even more ironic, Bohmfalk's father was the first Border Patrol officer in Douglas. But that hasn't stopped Bohmfalk from criticizing the Border Patrol. Like many who live on the border, Bohmfalk believes that the U.S. must face reality; people aren't going to stop coming, at least not for a long, long time.

"Militarization on the border is just another Band-Aid," says Bohmfalk. "Let's fix this problem. Let's not let it fester. People are getting killed for this, and it's not worth it."

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Susan Zakin