Open Season

Border authorities fear a return to the law of the Wild West as Texas homeowners take up guns against illegal Mexican immigrants

"This would be the best place in the world to live if that wasn't Mexico," says Tommy Vick, 60, whose riverside house has a large garden and plush green lawns. "We've been broken into numerous times over the last eight to 10 years. I've lost $15,000 to $20,000 in merchandise. We caught a burglar in our home one time, and after we turned him over to the police, they just turned him loose."

The thefts have forced him and his wife, Rhonda, to have someone at the house 24 hours a day, seven days a week and to keep firearms at ready.

"I can understand a man crossing the river, coming into the United States to get a job to better himself, even if it is illegal, but this is a little gang, with their baggy britches and bandannas," he says. "We're not prejudiced against Mexicans. We're prejudiced against thieves."

Eusebio de Haro, top, posed for a calendar picture with his wife, Juana Rangel, and daughter Rosa. Rangel, below with her daughter, is suing Kinney County rancher Sam Blackwood, who shot and killed de Haro after he asked Blackwood for a drink of water.
San Antonio Express-News
Eusebio de Haro, top, posed for a calendar picture with his wife, Juana Rangel, and daughter Rosa. Rangel, below with her daughter, is suing Kinney County rancher Sam Blackwood, who shot and killed de Haro after he asked Blackwood for a drink of water.
As he was taken to Val Verde County jail after pleading guilty earlier this month to killing a Mexican youth in 1999, Patrick Bordelon, left, paused to lecture investigator Lieutenant Larry Pope about the shortcomings of the case against him and denied firing the shot that killed Luis Armando Chavez Vaquera.
San Antonio Express-News
As he was taken to Val Verde County jail after pleading guilty earlier this month to killing a Mexican youth in 1999, Patrick Bordelon, left, paused to lecture investigator Lieutenant Larry Pope about the shortcomings of the case against him and denied firing the shot that killed Luis Armando Chavez Vaquera.

Popular support for Bordelon began to ebb after the fatal shooting, and while awaiting trial, he sold his riverside home and moved away from Del Rio. Last fall, Vick says, the new owner hired a crew from a local security company to install a burglar alarm system.

"They broke for lunch and went into town to eat, and while they were gone, someone broke in and stole all their tools," Vick recalls. "And when they came back, the people across the river were laughing at them."

Meanwhile, in Mexico, Bordelon's freedom after posting bail was a matter of irritation and bafflement for Mexicans, who are accustomed to a legal system in which the accused is typically confined while the facts of the case are being weighed by a judge.

"In Mexico, a suspect would be immediately jailed until he could demonstrate he is innocent. Some people don't understand that there is a different legal system in the United States. They ask, 'Why is he free if there is evidence?'" said Sada, then the consul general in San Antonio.

"There was a reaction, mainly in Ciudad Acuña, because people were very angry about this youngster dying, and they want justice. Some people perceive that nothing will be done, but we have guaranteed them that the investigation is under way and that this takes time."


To show its extreme concern over the shootings, the Mexican government has repeatedly requested the intervention of U.S. federal agencies and Texas officials. Dark-suited consular officers and lawyers also have quietly monitored the trials of the various shooters. When the outcomes were not satisfactory, the protest has been loud.

Mexican anger peaked last year when Sam Blackwood, a 74-year-old Kinney County rancher, was convicted of misdemeanor deadly conduct in the death of Eusebio de Haro and received a suspended sentence.

"In the United States it is not a crime to kill a Mexican," screamed a banner headline in the Piedras Negras newspaper El Zocalo, following the August 2001 verdict.

The Mexican consulate in San Antonio pronounced the outcome "enormously discouraging."

It issued an official note of protest that read, "It is unacceptable to the Mexican Government that a judicial system can allow a person who has shot someone from behind to walk away without the jail sentence such a crime deserves."

But Americans who live in the outback have their allies and grievances, too. Some point to the rape and murder of Mary G. Delery, 71, and her daughter Mary M. Delery on June 30, 2001, as the danger posed by unknown wandering Mexicans.

The crime was quickly linked by DNA evidence to Juan Castanon, 22, an illegal Mexican immigrant visiting relatives who lived near the Delery residence. He has since fled to Mexico, but because the crime is a potential capital offense, there is little hope of him being extradited.

To show their concern and solidarity, both Ranch Rescue of Abilene and the Republic of Texas sent armed patrols to the region to assist landowners in defending and repairing their property.

"Our goal is to protect the life, liberty and property of citizens who live in the border zone," said Republic of Texas President Daniel Miller, whose group does not recognize the legitimacy of Texas statehood but considers the state an independent nation.

On its Web site, Ranch Rescue makes the case for the South Texas ranchers, describing how "criminal aliens" destroy private property and cut fences with impunity as they make their way toward the bright lights of San Antonio and Houston.

"The County Attorneys in these border counties have granted blanket immunity from prosecution to criminal aliens for all property crimes. Simply put, the border County Attorneys are turning a blind eye to the felony criminal offenses committed en masse within their counties by the criminal aliens, where the border county landowners are the victims. This selective non-enforcement of the law is being practiced solely on the basis of the criminal's national origin and immigration status," the Web site reads.

Jack Foote is head of Ranch Rescue, which has recruited volunteers for border patrols in Arizona and South Texas. The group plans to conduct another mission to South Texas this spring.

"We stand together, and we say to our governments: Either you keep these criminals off our private property, or we will," Foote says.

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