Today's post is from Margaret Regan, author of The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands. Read more about Beacon's immigration titles at "Beyond SB1070" on Beacon.org.
Robert Krentz was a modern cowboy. When he patrolled his ranch northeast of Douglas, he rode an ATV, not a horse. No matter. A rancher was a rancher and Krentz's family had run cattle on this 35,000-spread since 1907. Krentz had been trying to restore the parched land, and his innovative water system helped convert a portion of it into a wildlife habitat. In 2008, just after its 100th anniversary, the Krentz ranch was inducted into the Arizona Ranching Hall of Fame.
Krentz was a big man, tall and heavy, and, at fifty-eight, prematurely snowy-haired. He was known as a gentle giant, given to helping out needy border crossers in this heavily traveled migrant corridor. They walked his land regularly, and once his house had been broken into. "If they come in and ask for water, I'll still give them water," he told a PBS interviewer back in 1999. "That's just my nature."
Saturday, March 27, 2010, was a cool day for early spring, only 50 degrees or so. Krentz rumbled out on his ATV to check his water lines, his dog trotting along beside him. There'd been some trouble lately in these rural Cochise County grasslands. Residents blamed migrants for a rash of home robberies. And the day before, Krentz's brother Phil had spotted some drug mules on their ranch and called the Border Patrol; agents arrested eight undocumented immigrants and picked up nearly 300 pounds of marijuana.
At some point Saturday, Rob radioed into Phil; over the crackly airwaves Phil heard the words "illegal alien."
That was the last time Rob Krentz's family heard from him. Hours later, his body was found out on his ranch, still on his ATV. He'd been shot multiple times; his dog lay wounded beside him. The death of Robert Krentz changed the conversation about immigration in the United States. The killing made national and even international news. The county sheriff pleaded for calm, noting that the murder was unsolved (it remained unsolved as of July 2010), but that didn't stop anti-immigrant groups from asserting flatly that Krentz had been shot in cold blood by an undocumented immigrant, or felled by a Mexican drug dealer. Angry citizens around the country demanded that the federal government take action.