[Marxism] Immigrant rights groups put vigilante on defensive
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 24 08:51:34 MST 2006
NY Times, November 24, 2006
A Border Watcher Finds Himself Under Scrutiny
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
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.
Theyre flooding across, invading the place,
Mr. Barnett told the ABC program Nightline this
spring. Theyre going to bring their families,
their wives, and theyre going to bring their kids. We dont 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 Patrols, 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. Barnetts 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. Barnetts 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, thats why we
need to stop them, Mr. Barnett said. If we
dont step in for your children, I dont 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. Barnetts
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 sheriffs
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 agencys
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. Barnetts lawyers have suggested he has acted
out of a right to protect his property.
A lease holder doesnt 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
Moraless 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. Barnetts 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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