By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Sutton then ordered them to take off their shoes. The men were driven to the ranch's front gate while Sutton put their footwear in another vehicle and drove it to the Border Patrol station seven miles up the road. The family claims they had stashed $3,000 in the shoes--money they had saved to get a start in the United States--and it was missing when the shoes were returned.
The law center hopes the suit will have a chilling effect on ranchers like Sutton who might invite Ranch Rescue onto their land. "The aspect of this that has been little noticed is our naming the rancher. I think it has the potential of ending vigilantism on the border," says Mark Potok, editor of the poverty center's Intelligence Report. "What we're saying is that if you bring Ranch Rescue onto your land, you're gonna lose it."
The point is not lost on Sutton, who says the obvious aim of the suit "is to bankrupt me," and he sent Ranch Rescue home soon after the arrests.
"They have nothing to do with me. They're separate from me. When it comes to them, I don't know and I don't care," he says. "It sounds cruel, but I can't afford to be involving myself with their activities."
Sutton calls the lawsuit "ludicrous" and says nobody was mistreated on his property. He said he did not witness the apprehension of the Salvadorans, but when he was there they were offered food, water and blankets. As for the Mexicans, he conceded he took their shoes, but only so they wouldn't run. "It says I made them walk through the brush, with snakes and all. That's just not true."
Only Sutton, Conner and Nethercott have hired lawyers so far. Sutton says he has three. A Ranch Rescue member in Austin hand-scribbled a reply to the lawsuit with a general denial on behalf of the group, but Foote has yet to file a legal response at all.
Joe Sutton, who says he's received "not one bit of sympathy" from the 5,000 other residents of Jim Hogg County, says his team is working hard to get the lawsuit moved out of Hebbronville and into federal court. Dees says there are no federal matters involved, and he doubts they will succeed.
Asked what they gained from hosting Ranch Rescue, the Suttons answer in one word: "Nothing." Betty says she's still discovering fresh sneaker tracks along the game trails and dirt roads crossing the ranch, so little has changed.
It was more of a blessing for Leiva and Mancia. As witnesses to a violent felony, they were granted temporary visas and have remained in the country legally, says their lawyer, de Anda.
Rodriguez and his family went home to a village near Mexico City and are not planning to try the crossing again. "You have to hand it to these paramilitary types," says de Anda. "Their methods work. The uniforms and the guns scared my clients to death."
It is an oversimplification, though, to brand them as bigots and hate-mongers in the mold of the Klan. The Southern Poverty Law Center stops short of calling Ranch Rescue and the other citizens' border patrols hate groups, because their agendas are not directly centered on race.
Joe Sutton, who has lived part of his life in Latin American countries, sounds sincere when he says, "We're not anti-Mexican, anti-Mexico. People don't know what they're talking about when they go around calling me a racist."
And in Foote's case, beyond his "turd" remark, none of his voluminous public rhetoric concerns itself with race. "You don't know how hard I work to keep those kind of people out" of Ranch Rescue, he says.
Given a chance to discuss their ranch troubles at length, the Suttons seemed more interested in talking about emigration from Mexico and Central America than petty crimes committed on their land.
"The solution is getting the border shut down tighter than a bull's ass in fly season," Joe Sutton says. "I can take you to any hotel in Houston right now, and I guarantee four out of five employees are illegals. You can drive a few blocks and see 500 of them." Says his wife, "We're paying their medical bills...When people say they contribute, I don't think so. If they're illegal, they're not paying their fair share."
Similarly, Ranch Rescue has posted on its Web site a chart of the future racial makeup of the United States if current immigration and birth patterns hold.
So what is Ranch Rescue?
In their actions, if not their words, their motive seems clear. They are the radical fringe of a conservative, nativist political movement opposed to poor, Third World immigrants streaming into a country that is growing less and less white.
Rather than nattering about the "immigration problem" on the Web--or on conservative TV or radio where the topic has become a staple--Jack Foote decided to do something about it.
He strapped on a big gun, rounded up a unit and headed for the front.