Vigilantes targeting Mexican military
Troops help drug, people smugglers and will be shot, says leader of armed patrol in Douglas.
DOUGLAS - Rhetoric along the Mexican border here is rising, with a heavily armed group of residents declaring war on the Mexican military, and the mayor thinks chances are rising that someone will get hurt. The next time a Mexican soldier sets foot on the small chunk of border property owned by a Ranch Rescue member group, members plan to open fire, their leader said.
"Two in the chest and one in the head," warned Jack Foote, president of Ranch Rescue, a civilian group that patrols in search of illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. He said his group is protecting the rights of property owners.
Chances are rising for an international shootout, thanks to patrols along the Cochise County border by people other than law enforcement, said Douglas Mayor Ray Borane.
"This isn't a game," Borane said. "That's the thing that has always worried me, that these people would cause an international incident and not only hinder relations with Mexico, but that they'd make this area become a hotbed for other organizations like that."
According to the Arizona Revised Statutes, trespassing alone does not justify use of deadly force. Deadly force is allowed in self-defense, to protect another person from harm or to prevent certain crimes, including burglary, murder, assault, arson of an occupied structure and armed robbery.
The Border Patrol counts a border "incursion" as a sighting, contact or physical evidence of entry into the United States by a foreign law enforcement official between official ports of entry, said agency spokeswoman Gloria Chavez.
Between 200 and 250 incursions have been documented in the past five years, not counting accidental crossings, said U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado and outspoken advocate of militarizing the border.
That figure is compiled from law enforcement agencies along the Canadian and Mexican borders. Tucson Citizen archives show four reported incidents since 1997 in southern Arizona.
Since October, seven military incursions have been reported to the U.S. Border Patrol along both borders, Chavez said.
She agreed that the risk is high.
"It's not out of the ordinary, because it happens," she said of the crossings. "You're talking about both sides carrying weapons; that escalates the danger. Incursions are a very sensitive issue because it involves the sovereignty of our nation, and whenever they do happen it elevates the safety risk of our agents working along the border."
About two months ago, the Mexican military crossed onto Ranch Rescue's Arizona base, Camp Thunderbird, for the fifth time since July, Foote said. The Mexicans fired six or eight shots during the latest incident, though Ranch Rescue members did not report it to the Cochise County Sheriff's Department, he said.
"If there's an Arizona militia out there, we want them to come," Foote said. "If not, we're going to form our own militia. This is a war down here."
Tombstone-based Civil Homeland Defense founder Chris Simcox, who organizes civilian border patrols, recently videotaped a border encounter with what appear to be armed Mexican troops.
The men are gathered near an abandoned house Simcox said is commonly used as a staging area for illegal entries into the United States. Several of the men approach the barbed-wire border fence, then return to their Humvee.
The tape does not show the Mexican military crossing the border, but Simcox said the encounter on the tape is his second run-in with the Mexican military on the border. He was shot at by the military in July 2002 while on a patrol, he said.
A general in the Mexican military in Agua Prieta, Son., didn't return repeated phone calls this week, and soldiers at his base said he wasn't available.
Simcox and Foote aren't the only ones who say the Mexican military's border activities protect immigrant and drug smuggling.
"The drug cartel employs the services of the Mexican military," Tancredo said.
He heads the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, a group started in 1999 to address immigration issues in Congress.
"They're shipping drugs into the United States, that's what's going on," he said.
The military creates distractions for smugglers or protects loads of drugs and/or immigrants coming over the border, he said.
While crossings in the desert where the border is often poorly marked are often accidental, Chavez said, if a Mexican military unit is caught on this side of the border, its members would be apprehended, she said. She didn't know the last time that happened.
Sometimes smugglers dress as military to fool authorities, Chavez said.
Inside Camp Thunderbird, bullet casings litter the small ranch with two dwellings and an old trailer just down the road from the U.S. Border Patrol station. Large dogs stand guard outside, an old swimming pool is almost empty, a guest house is under renovation, and inside the living quarters, movies such as "G.I. Jane" and "Independence Day" sit on a shelf.
"We choose to fight. We're not going to run away." Foote said.
Foote wouldn't say how many of the 250 to 300 members of Ranch Rescue he claims to have are at the ranch at any given time. But rifles and handguns are in every room.
He said another recent incident brought four men with rifles close to the ranch before he scared them off with a flare. Foote said he wasn't sure who they were because they weren't dressed as military.
But he doesn't care.
"Mexican drug smugglers. Mexican army. Pretty much the same thing. We're in a border war," he said.