Editor’s note: In “Illegals: The Imminent Threat Posed by Our Unsecured U.S.-Mexico Border,” veteran journalist Jon E. Dougherty documents a truth that both major political parties have missed – namely, that sustained high immigration levels from south of the border will continue to pose economic, labor, security and criminal threats to the United States, unless American and Mexican leaders find ways to limit it.
In researching the book, Dougherty interviewed leaders of citizen border groups that are doing their best to stem the daily flow of illegal aliens over America’s southern border in the absence of adequate government patrols. In the interview, Jack Foote, national spokesman for Ranch Rescue and head of Ranch Rescue Texas, explains what his group does to fight the invasion.
Q: What got you started with the concept of Ranch Rescue?
A: The motivation for getting involved [in the border issue] in the first place were hearing the stories of [Arizona rancher] Roger Barnett. (Editor’s note: Roger and Donald Barnett, who own a ranch near the border town of Douglas, Ariz., has caught and turned over to Border Patrol some 5,000 illegals on his property since the mid-1990s. He was among the first U.S. property owners to garner the national spotlight for basically saying of the invasion of his property, “No more.”)
We’d read about these in the various publications we saw, and a couple of TV news spots about Roger Barnett and the problems he’d been having on his … ranch in Cochise County, Ariz. He is dealing with hundreds of trespassers everyday. When I first contacted Roger, he said that on a good day he saw only 150-200; on a bad day, he saw 500-600 coming across his property. These are trespassers, vandals, thieves, thugs, rapists, murderers … these are cattle rustlers, they destroy fences, they tear up water lines. They destroy the infrastructure that is required for a cattle operation to be functional. This is a tremendous expense and in the past has driven some of our cattle ranchers out of business, because they simply cannot bear the costs of running a working cattle ranch in a very lean industry, in a very lean economy – plus endure all the expenses of having to deal with all of this damage.
Q: Ranch Rescue is different from other border groups because your primary focus is on private property protection, right?
A: We make it very clear from the beginning that our motto is “Private property first, foremost, and always.” We are a private-property rights advocate, from day one, and have always been. We don’t engage in the immigration debate, because the immigration status or nationality of a trespasser or other criminal is irrelevant to his victim. These border county landowners and these rural, isolated parts of our southern border areas are being victimized on a daily basis. Not only are they being victimized by the criminals coming across their property, but now they are being victimized by the very government and public officials who are sworn to uphold and defend the law to protect the people, the residents, the citizens of this nation, this state and these counties.
Q: Obviously, the issue of illegal immigration and border protection of private property are intermingled because not all of the illegal immigrants, for instance, cross on public lands. However, at what point did you find your mission was changing from simple private-property protection to an immigration issue?
A: I don’t think anything about our original focus has changed. When [the founders of the group] got together – there was a group of eight of us – we talked about this. In June of 2000, we formed Ranch Rescue as a “doing business as” organization. Our goal was to go down and help private property owners repair their property. And in doing that, and being on the property, helping repair those fences … we noticed very soon that our mere presence on the property was a deterrent to crime (Editor’s note: Ranch Rescue volunteers are required to wear khaki-colored utility uniforms and are allowed to carry weapons; it’s possible that, to illegal aliens, they look like they could be “official” members of the government, say border agents).
These trespassers, these criminals, would see us, and we would see them, and they would go somewhere else. That was the extent of it. Eventually, we found out about the situation that Bob Maupin found himself in. Bob Maupin is a rancher over in eastern San Diego County, Calif., who was kidnapped at gunpoint by armed, uniformed soldiers of the Mexican army in 1985. For the past 10 years, he has had to conduct armed, uniformed private citizen patrols on his own property to ensure the safety of himself, his property and his family. If a Californian can do it, a Texan can do it.
Q: How many chapters does Ranch Rescue operate?
A: Eleven – we’re in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
Q: With some of those states – Michigan and Minnesota, for instance – there are some northern border concerns, but some of the other states – California, Virginia – have no such immediate border concerns. That signifies that you’re not about illegal immigration, you’re about private property, because there are private-property violations in every state.
A: Absolutely. We’ve had contacts from folks in New York who have to deal with constant incursions onto their private property by folks riding ATVs and four-wheel drive enthusiasts who don’t respect the private-property rights of the owners. We’ve had contacts from northern California who are getting constant criminal incursions onto their private property by eco-terrorists. We’ve also had contact from the northern states, such as Montana, where they are also seeing illegal border crossing onto private property, with its attendant damage and lawlessness that always accompanies such incursions. We’ve never done a northern border mission, but it is certainly one of our goals to assist our fellow citizens in those northern states. Now that we’re starting to become more nationally recognized and we’re starting to add more [state] chapters, we are going to start doing northern border rescue missions as soon as we possibly can.
Q: So you’d say there is a national interest in your group, rather than strictly a border interest?
A: There’s a national interest. The Colorado chapter was formed for the express purpose of organizing volunteers to send down to the border states during our [rescue] missions in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. They were also organized to help us solicit donations of equipment and funds – such as night-vision gear, video cameras, four-wheel drives, two-way radios – all of the gear we need to send volunteers out and keep them safe, keep them vigilant, and help these border county and other landowners deal with the crime that our federal, state, local and county law enforcement has proven so woefully inadequate at performing.
Q: You’ve had a lot of people – media, organizations, politicians – label your organization as a “vigilante” group. How do you respond to that?
A: These folks have never talked to us; they’ve only talked about us – mostly to the media, and mostly for the sole purpose of bad-mouthing our organization. Now, it’s their right to express their opinion, but it’s an uninformed opinion.
Q: The connotation is that you’re taking the law into your own hands. Are you?
A: We come as invited guests onto private property, and that is not taking the law into our own hands. We come under a written agreement with the landowners where we not only have permission to be on the property, but we also are appointed by the landowners as a limited agent for the express purpose of dealing with any criminal activity that we might encounter while we are guests here. That is not taking the law into our own hands. As a limited agent, we have the same rights for dealing with criminal activity and trespassers on the land as the landowner has, so if the landowner can evict a trespasser from his property, so can we. That’s exactly what we have done, and it’s what we’ll continue to do.
Q: Has that concept been vetted through some sort of legal representative – a lawyer?
A: Absolutely. We had a criminal lawyer take a look, and he concurred that if you’re appointed as a limited agent, you have the same rights for dealing with criminal activity – if that’s what your limited agency is about – as the landowner does.
Q: What is your procedure for dealing with criminal trespassers?
A: In every case, the one standard that we apply is that everything we do be within the law. Beyond that, we take the wishes of the landowner as our guiding principles. The landowner is our host. He is the owner of the property; we are his guests. We will abide by his wishes and be good guests. When the landowner asks us to do something, the first two questions that come up are, “Is it legal?” and, “Do we have enough people and equipment to do it safely?” If the answer to both is “yes,” we will make every effort to meet the needs of the landowners to deal with the incursions.