Nightly News   |  February 17, 2013

In Arizona, ranchers say rural border not secure

Hidden cameras reveal Mexican drug and immigrant smugglers crossing the U.S. border and traveling miles north into the country, NBC’s Mark Potter reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> as you just heard, one of the big issues in the immigration debate is border security . despite progress claimed by the federal government , nbc's mark potter found that for some americans who live near mexico, the border is anything but secure.

>> reporter: in the rugged terrain south of tucson, arizona , advocates concerned buzz border security took matters into their own hands and placed motion sensitive hidden cameras on known smuggling trails and this is their video, revealing wave after wave of mexican drug and immigrant smugglers, some of them heavily armed who cross the border and travel miles north inside the united states .

>> a trail coming in.

>> reporter: it's why rancher david beckham made the painful decision to move his family off his land, 12 miles north of the mexican border , because of all the armed smugglers crossing his property, threatening his home.

>> it was unsafe. i couldn't -- i couldn't see raising our children -- you know, i was afraid to let the kids go out even in the day.

>> reporter: resident here in this rugged desert say in the daytime it is relatively quiet but all of that changes as night falls and the land comes alive. recently, neighboring rancher are jim chilton found a mexican drug smuggler 's camp on his land, ten miles north of the border . the next day there, he found an active smugglers' trail littered with water bottles.

>> it's like living in a no man's land. the border patrol doesn't really protect us. they try to arrest people north of us mainly.

>> i feel that the united states has made a decision not to guard the border where they should. we should guard the border at the border .

>> reporter: the u.s. border patrol concedes that a forward operating base , designed to house agents right on the border at nearby sasabee, arizona is currently not staffed because of budget shortages, but customs officials say the border patrol still works hard to protect the ranchers. and with increased manpower and technology, has dramatically reduced illegal border crossings .

>> the fact of the matter is that substantial gains have been made. we need to make additional gains do we want them to feel safe in their homes? absolutely.

>> reporter: but ranchers say they still feel unprotected on their own land, along a border they insist is not secure. mark porter , nbc news, arivaca, arizona .