[Marxism] Immigrant rights groups put vigilante on defensive

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 24 08:51:34 MST 2006

NY Times, November 24, 2006
A Border Watcher Finds Himself Under Scrutiny

For years, Roger Barnett has holstered a pistol 
to his hip, tucked an assault rifle in his truck 
and set out over the scrub brush on his thousands 
of acres of ranchland near the Mexican border in southeastern Arizona to hunt.

Hunt illegal immigrants, that is, often chronicled in the news.

“They’re flooding across, invading the place,” 
Mr. Barnett told the ABC program “Nightline” this 
spring. “They’re going to bring their families, 
their wives, and they’re going to bring their kids. We don’t need them.”

But now, after boasting of having captured 12,000 
illegal crossers on land he owns or leases from 
the state and emerging as one of the earliest and 
most prominent of the self-appointed border 
watchers, Mr. Barnett finds himself the prey.

Immigrant rights groups have filed lawsuits, 
accusing him of harassing and unlawfully 
imprisoning people he has confronted on his ranch 
near Douglas. One suit pending in federal court 
accuses him, his wife and his brother of pointing 
guns at 16 illegal immigrants they intercepted, 
threatening them with dogs and kicking one woman in the group.

Another suit, accusing Mr. Barnett of threatening 
two Mexican-American hunters and three young 
children with an assault rifle and insulting them 
with racial epithets, ended Wednesday night in 
Bisbee with a jury awarding the hunters $98,750 in damages.

The court actions are the latest example of 
attempts by immigrant rights groups to curb armed 
border-monitoring groups by going after their 
money, if not their guns. They have won civil 
judgments in Texas, and this year two illegal 
Salvadoran immigrants who had been held against 
their will took possession of a 70-acre ranch in 
southern Arizona after winning a case last year.

The Salvadorans had accused the property owner, 
Casey Nethercott, a former leader of the Ranch 
Rescue group, of menacing them with a gun in 
2003. Mr. Nethercott was convicted of illegal gun 
possession; the Salvadorans plan to sell the property, their lawyer has said.

But Mr. Barnett, known for dressing in military 
garb and caps with insignia resembling the United 
States Border Patrol’s, represents a special 
prize to the immigrant rights groups. He is 
ubiquitous on Web sites, mailings and brochures 
put out by groups monitoring the Mexican border 
and, with family members, was an inspiration for 
efforts like the Minutemen civilian border patrols.

“The Barnetts, probably more than any people in 
this country, are responsible for the vigilante 
movement as it now exists,” said Mark Potok, 
legal director of the Southern Poverty Law 
Center, which tracks the groups. “They were the 
recipients of so much press coverage and they 
kept boasting, and it was out of those boasts 
that the modern vigilante movement sprang up.”

Jesus Romo Vejar, the lawyer for the hunting 
party, said their court victory Wednesday would 
serve notice that mistreating immigrants would 
not pass unpunished. Although the hunters were 
not in the United States illegally, they 
contended that Mr. Barnett’s treatment of them 
reflected his attitude and practices toward 
Latinos crossing his land, no matter what their legal status.

“We have really, truly breached their defense,” 
Mr. Vejar said, “and this opens up the Barnetts 
to other attorneys to come in and sue him 
whenever he does some wrong with people.”

Mr. Vejar said he would ask the state attorney 
general and the county attorney, who had cited a 
lack of evidence in declining to prosecute Mr. 
Barnett, to take another look at the case. He 
also said he would ask the state to revoke Mr. Barnett’s leases on its land.

Mr. Barnett had denied threatening anyone. He 
left the courtroom after the verdict without 
commenting, and his lawyer, John Kelliher, would not comment either.

In a brief interview during a court break last 
week, Mr. Barnett denied harming anyone and said 
that the legal action would not deter his 
efforts. He said that the number of illegal 
immigrants crossing his land had declined 
recently but that he thought it was only a temporary trend.

“For your children, for our future, that’s why we 
need to stop them,” Mr. Barnett said. “If we 
don’t step in for your children, I don’t know who is expected to step in.”

Mr. Barnett prevailed in a suit in the summer 
when a jury ruled against a fellow rancher who 
had sued, accusing him of trespassing on his 
property as he pursued immigrants. Another suit 
last year was dropped when the plaintiff, who had 
returned to Mexico, decided not to return to press the case.

Still, the threat of liability has discouraged 
ranchers from allowing the more militant civilian 
patrol groups on their land, and accusations of 
abuse seem to be on the wane, said Jennifer Allen 
of the Border Action Network, an immigrant rights group.

But David H. Urias, a lawyer with the Mexican 
American Legal Defense Fund who is representing 
the 16 immigrants suing Mr. Barnett, said fewer 
complaints did not necessarily mean less 
activity. Immigrants from Mexico are returned to 
their country often within hours and often under 
the impression that their deportation — and 
chance to try to return again — will go quicker without their complaints.

“It took us months to find these 16 people,” Mr. Urias said.

People who tend ranches on the border said that 
even if they did not agree with Mr. Barnett’s 
tactics they sympathized with his rationale, and 
that putting him out of business would not 
resolve the problems they believe the crossers cause.

“The illegals think they have carte blanche on 
his ranch,” said Al Garza, the executive director 
of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in Arizona, 
a civilian patrol group that, Mr. Garza says, 
does not detain illegal immigrants but calls in 
their movements to the Border Patrol. “The man has had it.”

Mr. Barnett, a retired Cochise County sheriff’s 
deputy and the owner of a towing business, 
acquired his ranch in the mid-1990s, buying or 
leasing from the state more than 22,000 acres.

Almost from the start he took up a campaign 
against the people crossing the border from 
Mexico, sometimes detaining large groups and 
radioing for the Border Patrol to pick them up.

Chuy Rodriguez, a spokesman for the agency’s 
Tucson office, said the Border Patrol maintained 
no formal relationship with Mr. Barnett or other 
civilian groups. Agency commanders, concerned 
about potential altercations, have warned the 
groups not to take the law into their hands.

“If they see something, we ask them to call us, 
like we would ask of any citizen,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

Mr. Barnett’s lawyers have suggested he has acted 
out of a right to protect his property.

“A lease holder doesn’t have the right to protect 
his cattle?” Mr. Kelliher asked one of the men in 
the hunting party, Arturo Morales, at the trial.

“I guess so, maybe,” Mr. Morales replied.

Mr. Barnett has had several encounters with local 
law enforcement officials over detaining illegal 
immigrants, some of whom complained that he 
pointed guns at them. The local authorities have 
declined to prosecute him, citing a lack of 
evidence or ambiguity about whether he had violated any laws.

A few years ago, however, the Border Action 
Network and its allied groups began collecting 
testimony from illegal immigrants and others who 
had had confrontations with Mr. Barnett.

They included the hunters, who sued Mr. Barnett 
for unlawful detention, emotional distress and 
other claims, and sought at least $200,000. 
Ronald Morales; his father, Arturo; Ronald 
Morales’s two daughters, ages 9 and 11; and an 
11-year-old friend said Mr. Barnett, his brother 
Donald and his wife, Barbara, confronted them Oct. 30, 2004.

Ronald Morales testified that Mr. Barnett used 
expletives and ethnically derogatory remarks as 
he sought to kick them off state-owned property 
he leases. Then, Mr. Morales said, Mr. Barnett 
pulled an AR-15 assault rifle from his truck and 
pointed it at them as they drove off, traumatizing the girls.

Mr. Kelliher conceded that there was a heated 
confrontation. But he denied that Mr. Barnett 
used slurs and said Ronald Morales was as much an 
instigator. He said Morales family members had 
previously trespassed on Mr. Barnett’s land and 
knew that Mr. Barnett required written permission to hunt there.

Even as the trial proceeded, the Border Patrol 
reported a 45 percent drop in arrests in the 
Douglas area in the last year. The agency credits 
scores of new agents, the National Guard 
deployment there this summer and improved technology in detecting crossers.

But Ms. Allen of the Border Action Network and 
other immigrant rights supporters suspect that 
people are simply crossing elsewhere.

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