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The News
México City, December 2, 2000


N.Y. Times News Service

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - An activist organization that strongly opposes illegal immigration is recruiting volunteers to provide armed security for South Texas ranchers who say their property is being damaged by people illicitly crossing the border from Mexico.

Members of Ranch Rescue also want to help ranchers in Kinney County mend fences and water tanks they say are ruined by illegal immigrants, according to Ranch Rescue leader Jack Foote of Arlington.

President Fox has recently appointed the nation's first 'Border Czar' to deal with the thorny issue of immigration and liase with U.S. officials, but some residents on the U.S. side appear too impatient to wait for new dialogue.

''The ranchers, farmers and other landowners in Kinney County are being overrun by criminal trespassers that rob, intimidate, assault and harass them, and threaten their livelihood,'' reads an announcement by Ranch Rescue.

Foote said a Kinney County landowner asked the group for help but that no date has been set for a visit. Ranch Rescue also has helped landowners in Arizona.

''We, as private citizens, would only be there as guests of a private landowner, and would do only work or provide security for private landowners,'' he said.

''We're not proposing to do anything on government property and we don't want to interfere with any authority in Kinney County,'' he said.

At least one official questioned the need for such armed volunteerism in a region already guarded by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Herb Senne, the executive of Kinney County, said Thursday he had not heard of Ranch Rescue, and was unaware of the organization's plans to go to his county.

''No rancher would ever turn back free labor to help mend fences, but I don't think you'll see any rancher welcome someone on their property with a gun in hand,'' he said.

''Bring your gloves and hammers, but leave your guns at home,'' Senne said.

Although vandalism by trespassers on ranchland is a problem in Kinney County, Senne said there hardly is a state of emergency.

''The ranching community has coped with the problem and lives with the problem. But we have security here in Kinney County. We have more Border Patrol agents per capita than any community along the border,'' he said.

David Stoddard, a retired U.S. Border Patrol agent and an active member of a citizens' group concerned with illegal immigration, had several long talks with Foote.

''At first I was very, very skeptical but I became convinced he legitimately wanted to help out the ranchers as opposed to vigilante activities,'' he said.

''And when he came out here, he wasn't the showboat type. He specifically asked that the press not be notified,'' he said.

Foote said that the real purpose of his activism is to force elected public officials to act to protect private property.

''Basically, we're rubbing their noses into it. We exist not only to take direct action ourselves, but to force the politicians and bureaucrats to take effective action,'' he said.