Tony Sedgwick is the President of the Board for the Santa Fe Ranch Foundation, a working cattle ranch near Nogales, Arizona and just a few miles north of the U.S. border with Mexico. With a background in international business law, Tony offers a sweeping view of history and economics of the borderlands and sees a need to shift our international policies away from fear and protectionism and toward development and infrastructure.
This interview was conducted in mid-January 2021, before the inauguration of Joe Biden, so when he refers to “this administration” he is referring to Donald Trump. Because of the pandemic, we conducted the interview outside at his ranch, so in the audio, you’ll hear chickens, dogs, neighbors, airplanes and more in the background.
“If you’re fortunate enough to live near the border, you can make an enormous difference. There are endless numbers of groups that are making a difference. They don’t get the news because happiness is boring. But let me tell you, happiness is a much better way to live. Okay?”Tony Sedgwick
“I am on my mother’s side, a third generation rancher in Arizona. We’re sitting here in my office, which used to be a chicken coop, and then it was a pig pen. Now it’s my office. Much nicer.
We’re in the heart of the Arizona Sonoran Desert. When I started coming here as a kid, the border was of no consequence. You would cross the line for a meal or for the movies or for whatever you liked and you’d go back and forth and there was no real control of it.
Then it evolved into a major international crossroads. The U.S. receives about 80% of its winter vegetables from Mexico and about 80% of those winter vegetables come through the town of Nogales. It’s a major trading port. In the late seventies and the eighties, when I practiced law, it was the city of opportunity and the signs all read: ‘Welcome to Nogalas, The Gateway to Mexico.’
Following 9/11…the bombing of the twin towers in Manhattan…that caused a wave of fear and isolationism in the United States. And that wave rippled out and landed…crashed…upon us here on the border. And the perspective of Americans was that Mexico had become an unsafe place. America turned inward.
And we began in 2003 the creation of Homeland Security under then President Bush, followed by the continued militarization of the border under Presidents Clinton, Obama, and then finally reaching its apex under President Trump. And the border…which was characterized as a gateway…is today characterized as a wall.
Mexico continues to be a major trading partner for the United States. Trade continues here, although the United States has done its best to make it as difficult as possible for American businessmen and Mexican businessmen to thrive with endless numbers of rules and regulations governing the importation and exportation of product. And an attitude of fear and discrimination against Mexican people is creating an environment of distrust and separation.
We used to have another ranch. And the fence line of that ranch was the U.S. – Mexico border. Mexican cows being as smart as American ones, would push up against the international fence and knock it down and come on over to the U.S. side to eat. We would round them up into corrals we have down there, we’d call our friends across the line. They would come on over. We would have a barbecue or a couple of beers, and then we would push their cattle back into Mexico, put the fence back up, and wave. And that was the relationship that we had with our friends and partners across the line.
If we needed some extra men to do roundup…you know, cowboying is not a skill set taught in American community colleges…there are very few Americans that will undergo the type of rough deals that ranching and cowboying takes. And we would have cowboys from Mexico. They would come on over, they would help us with the roundup, and then they would go on back. And so there was this inter-relationship. If I needed a horse trained, I would take them down there, put down the fence, they’d train him for two or three months and bring them back. There was an informal back and forth.
Now, this is what I think of as the ‘constitution free zone.’ In this area, which is like a gasket between Mexico and the U.S., although it is U.S. and although we are citizens, our rights are very different from the rights of people living in the rest of the United States. The federal government is exempted from about 150 different rules and regulations and laws, many of which pertain to construction.
So for instance, when this wall is being constructed, they don’t have to do an environmental impact study. They don’t have to do an archeological sensitivity study, to see if there’s graves of indigenous people. You will notice if you’re here for a period of time, that if you go to areas near the border that are somewhat isolated, you will be stopped by border patrol officers in the United States, driving along a public road. Particularly if you are brown, if your vehicle is not in great shape. The profiling that the United States Supreme Court found to be unconstitutional in the case in New York City, back in the seventies, is perfectly acceptable in this region because we are considered to be a virtual part of the border.
Fear is a great motivator. And when I hear a rattle, I leap, because it could be a rattlesnake and I don’t want to get bit. So fear is a great motivator. It pumps the adrenaline into you. But it’s not a great basis for thought. After I’ve lept away from the rattle, I turn and look to see what there was and I make a determination.
But we acted without that second step in this country. We acted entirely out of fear and began the politics of fear that continue to be the main motivator. And fear doesn’t let you think.
How do people come into this country illegally? The majority of people…between 55 and 65% of all the people that are in this country illegally…came into this country legally. They flew in, they came by bus, they walked across the international port, and they presented documents. They presented tourist visas. They presented student visas. They presented temporary visas that allowed them to come into the country, legally. They did not jump a wall. They did not scamper through the hills. They came here legally, and then they overstayed their visa. Homeland Security until very recently had a department of 500 people that reviewed those visa overstays and they had another 15,000 people that watch the border.
Okay. Now, this is the 80/20 rule. If I focus 80% of my effort, on 20% of my problem, I’m going to be highly unsuccessful. This is what the federal government has done. No private corporation would ever survive under the laws of commerce, supply and demand, with that kind of stupidity.
We just screw our goodwill. We just throw it away. We get up and we say something stupid to get another couple thousand votes. We’re not patriots in the sense of seeking the good of our country, because we don’t want to recognize that, first of all, we are homo sapiens.
We are citizens of the planet Earth. That is our first responsibility. As the Bible says, a nation is judged by how it treats its widows and orphans. And the dudes that were writing that stuff back in the day were desert people. And they understood that to be a widow or an orphan in a desert community is death. It’s the worst. Because family is all that matters in a desert community because you take care of each other and if you don’t got family, you’re screwed.
How do we take care of the people who are screwed? You know, that’s how we’re judged. And we’re not judged by God, by a white guy with a beard. We’re judged by the consequences to our own society. You know what I mean?
When you eat lots of candy bars and, and M&M’s and chocolate cakes and all the things that I love, you get judged. Not by somebody telling you that’s bad, but by your cholesterol, and your heart attack. There are consequences. Newton’s second law doesn’t just apply to apples falling out of trees. It’s a reality for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.
These principles, the Christian principles, the principles of the Talmud, of the Quran…not as a translated but as written…these principles make sense. Okay, you’re nice, you feel good. You take care of someone else, it helps you.
One of the things that we suffer from in this overpopulated world, is a sense of helplessness. We have a sense that we can’t change things, that we can’t make life better. And that sense of helplessness is bullshit. It is absolute bullshit. We can make not only make our lives better, we can make the lives of those around us better. It takes a little effort. It takes some concern, but if the average American spends four hours a day watching television, if you just give up one of those hours to help the people around you, you will make a difference.
Do something for your neighbor. Do something for a person that cannot give back to you. And as we change our attitudes in that direction, this is what our country stands for. We are that bright city on the hill, our symbol has always been the Lady Liberty. Give us your poor, your tired and huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. We don’t want that symbol to become a rusted steel wall that separates us. Just by turning and helping the person next to you, that will change us.
That’s who we have always been as Americans. Okay? It’s not happy horseshit. It’s the truth.
As a human being, happiness is awesome. And in our country we have enshrined its pursuit in our constitution. It’s right there with life and Liberty. It’s a big deal. And happiness comes from sharing. Happiness comes from caring. It comes from reaching out your hand.”
-Have you ever let fear guide your actions?
-When have you experienced natural consequences?
-Where could you find additional time in your schedule to help others?
-How have you witnessed the politics of fear operate in our national dialogue?
-When have you stepped in to counter that narrative?
-Are there ways you have been complicit in the politics of fear?
-What is your understanding of our country’s southern border?
-Were there any concepts that surprised you in Tony’s story?
-Were there any passages that challenged you in Tony’s story?
-Where do you turn for useful information about border issues?