By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
"Sure," says Nathan Selzer, an immigrants' rights activist with Proyecto Libertad in Harlingen. "They're gonna go down and fix fences. First of all, I don't believe it. It's much more, well, it's racially motivated on one level. Also on a class level, a lot more than we are sometimes willing to admit. We're definitely aware of the vigilantism, is really what we'd classify it as .If it really came down to a mission to go help repair property damage, honestly, we'd care less. I don't believe it. I don't buy it. There have been shootings. Ultimately there are kidnappings out in Arizona. There has been violence."
None of the violence Selzer speaks of has been attributed to Ranch Rescue's inaugural and so far sole mission to Roger Barnett's Arizona ranch, but it is violence that has been steadily increasing in the past two years in the very border areas into which Foote plans to march his armed, uniformed, undeputized -- and from the sound of things, angry -- volunteers.
Operation Eagle was originally scheduled for spring 2001 in Kinney County, less than a year after a private landowner shot and killed an immigrant there. U.S attorneys, with aid from the Mexican government, are prosecuting the case in federal court. To Jack Foote, the import of these facts lies in the Mexican government's support of the prosecution. More evidence, he says, of the erosion of American sovereignty, and of purposeful U.S. policy -- like NAFTA, which he calls the "North American Freeloaders and Thieves Agreement" -- designed to keep the border permeable, and to callously abandon the voter-insignificant legal population of the borderlands to a degree of lawlessness that would be unacceptable in an influence-packed city like Houston, or Dallas.
Operation Eagle was eventually canceled, Ranch Rescue's Web site reports, because the unidentified host "has been intimidated by the County Attorney and threatened by the Mexican government if they invite anyone to help them protect their homes and their private property."
Bunk, says Kinney County Attorney Tully Shahan. He doesn't know any rancher who's invited them, says he's had no contact with any landowners about Ranch Rescue, or with Ranch Rescue itself, and claims to not know much about the organization beyond what a reporter has just told him.
Del Rio Sector Border Patrol Chief Paul Berg is a bit more familiar with Ranch Rescue, and he doesn't want it around. He can't support the idea of private citizens taking the law into their own hands, for one thing. For another, his guess is that the presence of armed citizens operating under the color of private property privacy, in areas where tensions are already piqued, would prove a hindrance to his work, and no help at all.
In the summer and again in the fall of '99, a Val Verde County citizen allegedly opened fire on trespassers, wounding one, killing another. The shooter's trial is scheduled for next month. Sam Blackwood, 75, himself a recent immigrant from Arkansas to a 50-acre retirement ranch near Brackettville, allegedly shot and wounded one of two illegals confronted on his property. No trial date has been set. In April 2000, an illegal immigrant reported to the Edwards County sheriff in Rockport that he had been shot -- an allegation that is still under investigation. In late January of this year, in Zavala County, a ranch owner allegedly tried to detain a small group of trespassers. Two ran. One caught a bullet. The shooter has been charged.
Neither are illegals blameless, and Ranch Rescue's Web site chronicles the news, including, among a smattering of drug smuggler run-ins with Border Patrol agents, this headline from the January 20 Arizona Daily Dispatch: "Border Patrol fires on mob of rock-throwing trespassers." No injuries were reported. The Web site's summary of the article reads, "Gang of illegal aliens gets a taste of hot lead."
"This was a mob," writes Foote, who wasn't there, "behaving like assholes, and they subsequently got a TASTE of hot lead, not a bullet in the chest, which, in my personal view, each of them almost certainly deserved for putting the life of that BP officer in immediate jeopardy. Rocks are deadly weapons when thrown at a human being. If you doubt that, stand 50 feet away and have someone throw rocks at you until you gain a deeper appreciation."
No one's throwing rocks at South Texas rancher Ray Hutto, but if anyone can claim to appreciate the trials of border life, he can.
"I been there always. I'm 80 years old, and hell I was born here."
Hutto's ranch is near Del Rio, and he says it receives a "good amount" of illegal traffic.
"I been here all these years, and you know I never really have had any trouble with the wets. Oh, we've had 'em steal, yeah, but all these Del Rio ones steal too. They're worse than these wets. They come out here and case these damn ranches and then drive up here when you're gone and steal everything you got."
As to Ranch Rescue, Hutto says, "More I think about it, we don't need them kinda people in there. And Border Patrol, they're doing a damn good job, and that's their job anyway. And these other people, I'm not interested, I don't think. Especially if they wasn't from around here, and carrying guns."Immigrants are messengers to the quote developed world that humankind will not accept global injustice, in this sense: people cannot meet their needs where they're at. One of our historic responses to that has been to migrate. We do it all the time, simply moving from city to city, no? It's worldwide. It's a similar dynamic all around the world. You've got countries that have accumulated wealth, many times taking it from other countries, and now members of those other countries are moving to the countries of wealth . Instead we treat it as a black and white issue where they're breaking the law, they're criminals, they should be treated as criminals, and as soon as they've opened up that door, it allows all sorts of things to happen. It becomes ok that we have 300 people a year dying on our border. All of a sudden that becomes part of a normalcy .We are, in a lot of ways, we're helping to insure that the flow of immigration continues and increases. Mexico is the perfect example. [With] NAFTA a lot of smaller folks, subsistence farmers, were forced out. As bigger corporations bought up land, which again we supported all of a sudden they can't afford to buy the same food they used to raise, so then they migrate. Well, we've created the conditions, in a lot of ways with our own politic, for that to happen .They're not coming across the river to spite the United States. They're coming out of other needs .-- Nathan Selzer, of immigrant rights group Proyecto Libertad in Harlingen