A caravan of vehicles wound its way along the ranchland dirt roads of southern New Mexico’s Bootheel region, stirring up clouds of dust amid desert grasslands and otherwise clear turquoise sky.

The dirt routes aren’t usually as well-traveled. But on this recent day, a convoy of curious and concerned borderland residents — a few of whom traveled two or three hours to get here — were on a mission to see firsthand the source of an ongoing border controversy.

The debate revolves around where exactly to build a new U.S. Border Patrol substation of sorts — called a forward operating base —somewhere in the Animas Valley. The project, which gained serious momentum after the 2010 murder of a southeastern Arizona rancher, is aimed at curbing illegal immigration, including drug and human traffickers, that was pushed to the remote area, as border security has tightened in adjacent sections