The New York Times
April 2, 2000

Incidents Renew Ranch's Border Patrol Ban

          By ROSS E. MILLOY

          SARITA, Tex., April 1 -- After government vehicles ran over and
          injured illegal immigrants on a vast cattle ranch here twice in the
          past month, the ranch's owners notified the United States Border Patrol
          that its agents could no longer pursue their quarry on ranch property.

          "We're in a hard situation," said Richard Leshin, a lawyer for the John G.
          and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation, a charitable organization
          that owns the Kenedy Ranch.

          The foundation, which has strong ties to the Catholic Church, made its
          decision because it believes that the Border Patrol has been violating
          immigrants' human rights.

          As a result, Mr. Leshin said, "The government has told us that they have
          the authority to seize the ranch because we are in violation of federal law,
          and that's a major concern for the foundation's directors."

          For their part, Border Patrol officials say that while they have the right to
          seize the ranch, they do not plan to. But they say they expect the
          foundation to allow agents to patrol the area freely, which, they say, is
          necessary to control illegal immigration.

          Each month, several thousand undocumented immigrants try to slip past
          the Border Patrol's K-24 checkpoint in the middle of ranch property on
          Highway 77, just south of Sarita, the Border Patrol said. Many of the
          immigrants enter the largely uninhabited 235,000-acre ranch, one of the
          largest in Texas, in hopes of escaping north.

          Surrounded by rolling plains of scrub chaparral and mesquite trees, the
          checkpoint and the 90 agents who operate it are like a dike against the
          human river of illegal aliens, said Fred Borrego, a Border Patrol

          "These people are poor, they're hungry, they're desperate, and they'll do
          anything to keep from being caught," Mr. Borrego said. "But it's our job
          to stop them."

          He said agents capture 1,800 to 2,200 undocumented immigrants near
          the checkpoint every month, about half the total he estimated moves
          through the area.

          "Sometimes we can see dozens of suspected illegals from the checkpoint
          and can't do anything about it if we can't get on to Kenedy Ranch
          property," he said.

          The checkpoint has been controversial for years. A University of
          Houston study found that in 1996, 19 immigrants died of heat stroke and
          other exposure-related causes while trying to evade the checkpoint.

          Because of ongoing internal investigations by the Border Patrol, Mr.
          Borrego would not discuss details of what he called the "unfortunate
          accidents" in which the immigrants were recently injured.

          On March 2, agents working west of K-24 ran over the right arm of
          Victor Manuel, 25, while pursuing about 25 people suspected of being
          undocumented immigrants; on March 7, another vehicle struck Armando
          Leal, who was hiding in high grass, Border Patrol incident reports said.

          Mr. Leal suffered major injuries to his back and pelvis that required
          surgery and was released on March 17 from Christus Spohn Memorial
          Hospital in Corpus Christi, hospital officials said.

          The Kenedy Foundation banned agents once before, in 1995, when
          vehicles operating off the ranch's paved roads ignited grass fires and
          agents damaged gates and fences, Mr. Leshin said. Border Patrol agents
          also fished and hunted on ranch property without permission, he said.

          In September 1998, Mr. Leshin said, the Federal Bureau of Investigation
          warned the Kenedy Foundation that the government was considering
          seizing the ranch because of the ban, and a settlement was signed in
          September 1999 that required federal officials to notify the foundation
          before they pursued immigrants beyond paved roads on ranch property.

          "The incidents in which the two immigrants were injured broke that
          agreement, and the foundation's board voted March 17 to ban federal
          agents from its property," Mr. Leshin said.

          The ranch is used primarily for cattle and oil operations but also allows
          nature tourists to prowl its coastal prairies and sand dunes in search of
          the 200 species of migratory birds present in the spring.

          Under federal law, agents have the right to enter any property within 25
          miles of United States boundaries. Although the Kenedy Ranch is nearly
          100 miles from the Mexican border, its land extends almost to the Gulf of
          Mexico, which officials say is an international boundary.

          "The government has the authority to seize the ranch, but I don't know
          that there is any current talk of doing that," said Perry Cronin, a
          spokesman for the Border Patrol's regional district office in McAllen,
          Tex. "We're still in the talking stages, and no agreements have been

          Both Mr. Cronin and Nancy Cohen, with the Immigration and
          Naturalization Service in Washington, said they were unaware of any
          case in which the government had seized private property in such

          Advocates for immigrants in El Paso, Houston and the Lower Rio
          Grande Valley say disputes with the Border Patrol over access to private
          property and injuries caused by agents pursuing immigrants have
          increased along the border in recent years as enforcement efforts have

          "People should have the right to seek jobs across borders without being
          herded and hunted like animals," said Nathan Selzer of Proyecto
          Libertad, an immigrant legal aid organization based in Harlingen, Tex.
          "It's an affront to human dignity."

          Maria Jimenez of the American Friends Service Committee in Houston
          said that, increasingly, residents along the border "are beginning to object
          to the numbers of Border Patrol agents coming onto their property."

          She added, "We're hearing many more complaints in recent years about
          their tactics."

          Ms. Jimenez said those problems include at least two or three incidents a
          year of what she called "rundowns" by agents chasing immigrants with